BOARDING: Passengers get off an EmX bus in Eugene, part of the city’s newest bus rapid transit program.
By Shelby Sebens | Northwest Watchdog
Some Eugene residents are hopeful a pending lawsuit against the local transit district and Federal Transit Administration will put the brakes on a multi-million dollar bus rapid transit project.
Our Money Our Transit, a local watchdog group, contends the FTA was wrong in finding there was no significant impact from the route the city chose for the West 11th EmX extension, the latest addition planned for the city’s bus rapid transit system that started in 2007.
The lawsuit aims to get an injunction to delay the nearly $96 million, 8.8-mile bus rapid transit project. This would be the third bus rapid transit line in Eugene, costing more than double what the second route cost in 2009 — at about $46 million for the same mileage. The new price tag is nearly $11 million per mile, with most funding coming from federal grants.
“We’re not anti-transit, OMOT spokesman Bob Macherione told Northwest Watchdog. “What we believe is that they’re trying to build a system that’s not suitable to the size of the community and the growth of the community.”
The lawsuit specifically pertains to the route chosen for the new bus rapid transit line, which wasn’t the number one choice but the lesser of evils when it came to neighborhood impacts, said Andy Vobora, Lane Transit District director of customer service and planning.
“From a purely transit standpoint, that was probably an unfortunate change,” he told Northwest Watchdog. “Ultimately, the city council felt strongly that this was the better alignment for the city of Eugene.”
The route takes 6th and 7th avenues instead of a direct route from West 11th and includes the city’s largest ever relocation of utilities, hence the high price tag.
‘So you’re driving around the residents you’re supposed to serve,” Macherione said. Officials contend the route coincides with economic development planned for that corridor.
NO BUILD: Eugene resident Bob Macherione has spent $1,200 in legal fees fighting the city over free speech rights to oppose the bus rapid transit system.
The issues with the Eugene bus service extend beyond the lawsuit and the chosen route. OMOT argues the expense and toll on the project are simply unnecessary for a town of about 158,000 people. Macherione argues the bus rapid transit is cannibalizing the existing bus system.
“We’re just looking for bus transit to be basic,” he said, pointing to the city’s cut of service to low income housing in 2010.
Transit officials have until Feb. 28 to respond to the lawsuit, but Vobora said the local district and FTA are confident they were well within the environmental review process and believe the judge won’t delay the project.
OMOT charges that the Lane Transit District is pushing a bus rapid transit line to keep federal dollars flowing despite a lack of need and an overwhelming concern by citizens.
Macherione racked up $1,200 in legal fees when the city fined him for putting up a sign on his own property opposing the bus project. The American Civil Liberties Union eventually stepped in and the city changed its sign ordinance.
Vobora said the bus rapid transit plan fits with the city’s long-term plan for growth and that much of the previously cut regular bus service has been restored.
Contact Shelby Sebens at SSebens@Watchdog.org.
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