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West Eugene EmX Being Built

Rachael McDonald

Construction is underway for a new rapid transit bus route in West Eugene. The EmX expansion will be funded with $75-million in federal money. A group that opposes the project is still hoping to halt it.

This spring, the sound of roadwork has been audible on Eugene's downtown streets.

Here on the corner of 6th and Charnelton, workers are pouring concrete on a driveway apron.

Preparations for the West Eugene EmX route include rebuilding 5 miles of sidewalk, cutting down and replanting trees, and relocating underground utilities.

Credit Rachael McDonald
Wildish crews pouring concrete along 7th Avenue.

Portions of Charnelton Street were closed last month. Toby Sovak, owner of Noisette Pastry Kitchen, says it was a hassle when the work was right outside her door.

Sovak: "There was certainly a week or two where it seemed a little bit slower than usual and customers did mention that it was a little bit challenging to find parking, but LTD did a great job in offering some incentives for us to offer to our customers and to our employees."

Now that the street is open again, Sovak says it was a blip on the radar.

That's how LTD is hoping all business owners will see the inconvenience of their roadwork. Lisa Van Winkle is spokeswoman for West Eugene EmX.

Van Winkle: "Well, I think it's fair to say that most businesses would rather construction not be right in front of them. I think, we would all feel that way. I do hope that they feel that we're trying very hard in order to maintain their access, maintain that visibility."

Van Winkle says she's been in contact with everyone along the west Eugene EmX route letting business owners and residents know what to expect with the construction. LTD has put up "Business Open" signs in places where work is underway. LTD's Andy Vobora says the EmX project is about more than rapid transit.

Vobora: "We're going to have a great community project that's going to support not only better pedestrian areas, cycling, based on the pedestrian bike bridges that we're putting in, those connections to better transit in this area."

The expansion will add 9 miles to the existing EmX route, raising the total to 24 miles. The final route will go from the Walmart in West Eugene all the way to Peacehealth Riverbend hospital in Springfield.

LTD is counting on a $75 million grant from the federal Transportation Department to fund this project. The full price tag is 96 million dollars. With state funding covering the balance. The federal money hasn't arrived yet. Vobora expects the check to come in August. LTD is spending general funds on the work its doing presently.

Credit Rachael McDonald
"Business Open" sign along West 6th.

Business owner Bob Macherone doesn’t think LTD will ever get the federal dollars. He says the EmX expansion is a mistake. He is with Our Money Our Transit, a group that formed in opposition to the project. Their angry protest signs dot the route along West 6th and 7th and 11th.

Macherone: "Well, LTD still needs to get past our federal lawsuit which is still pending."

Our Money Our Transit is appealing a federal judge's ruling against their lawsuit that challenges LTD's environmental assessment of the project. Macherone says the large EmX buses are too big and impractical for busy streets like 6th, 7th and 11th.

Macherone: "We'd like to see appropriate transit for the community and we'd like to see a broad-based, basic transit system and we don't even mind high-capacity stuff. We just don't think it needs to be done with these giant articulated buses that are destroying our streets and making us pay."

Macherone and Our Money Our Transit continue to fight the project. He expects a panel of the Federal Appeals Court to hear their case by the end of the year. meanwhile the EmX work is underway outside Macherone's Sports Car Shop on 6th Avenue.

Other business owners are supportive of EmX.

McKinney: "I'm Joseph McKinney, the president of Oregon Roads."

McKinney has been coping with the EmX construction. The main entrance to his business is hard to see when I vist. A lane of 6th avenue is dug up and customers have to drive over a steel plate to get in. McKinney says a couple of customers and an employee had to drive around the block in order to get in.

But, he sees the project as an investment in infrastructure.

McKinney: "People like the fact that we have bridges, Ferry Street Bridge or the I-105 Bridge that takes us, right outside my window, to Valley River Mall for example. But there was a construction mess when they built those. It's a long term investment. We have a short term inconvenience today and a long term benefit."

The project will take years. Crews will start work on West 11th in 2016. LTD hopes to have West Eugene EmX operational by early 2017.

Rachael McDonald is KLCC’s host for All Things Considered on weekday afternoons. She also is the editor of the KLCC Extra, the daily digital newspaper. Rachael has a BA in English from the University of Oregon. She started out in public radio as a newsroom volunteer at KLCC in 2000.
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