Board President Provides EmX UpdateEmX Improves the Transportation System
EmX is a highly effective transportation system. The first EmX line on Franklin Boulevard exceeded 20-year ridership projections in its first year of operation. Today EmX carries more than twice the number of customer boardings compared to the route 11 service that it replaced. The opening of the Gateway EmX Extension in early 2011 has attracted new riders and has even increased ridership along the original Franklin line. The region’s current transportation plan calls for a 61-mile network of EmX routes. As EmX routes are added, the entire transportation system becomes more effective in attracting additional transit riders, improving travel time for automobiles, improving air quality, reducing green house gas emissions, and reducing dependence on fossil fuel. Transit districts from all over the world have come to LTD to study the highly innovative EmX system in place here in our community.
LTD understands that some business and property owners have concerns about moving forward with the West Eugene EmX Extension at this time. Some businesses are struggling, others don’t see value in this investment, and many are concerned about construction impacts. Lane Transit District understands these concerns and continues to work on ways to minimize or eliminate negative impacts while moving forward with a project that provides tremendous benefits to the entire community.
Many public outreach efforts, including more than 300 business and property owner meetings, have been completed during the past few years. These meetings have helped craft the current configuration of the route and the plans for a successful partnership for working with the West Eugene community. The process of meeting one-on-one with residents, property owners, and business owners along the selected route is on-going. These meetings will provide additional opportunities to view the early designs and modify designs to minimize impacts further. LTD is committed to working with each property owner to make sure that this is the best route for West Eugene while serving the needs of the entire region.
LTD and construction contractor Wildish Construction have worked together on the first two EmX lines and have learned a great deal from the construction of each route. With the West Eugene route, we would use these lessons learned to make this an even smoother process for local residents and businesses. Construction techniques, such as night work and maintenance of access for customers and deliveries during construction, would be employed to maintain full business operations during construction. These options have been very successful in the past, but we want to continue to work with businesses to get their input on what to include in a construction plan that addresses any and all concerns. LTD knows the importance of maintaining and improving the health of businesses in order for our community to be successful. Construction of an EmX line in West Eugene must be done in a way that ensures the short-term health of businesses while creating an environment for long-term business expansion.
In a recent Register Guard Guest Editorial, Brian Weaver asserts that the West Eugene EmX Extension project will reduce vehicle capacity by 25 percent along sections of 6th and 7th Avenues. Mr. Weaver’s assertion is based on 27-year old data. Preliminary data, gathered from current information and projections of future conditions, shows that capacity for auto traffic will increase, and the amount of time it takes an auto to travel the corridor will improve as a result of EmX. This analysis is being refined as part of the required federal process and will be available for public review later this fall. The bottom line is that one of the purposes of EmX is to improve vehicle movement—starting on the day that it is built. EmX development has always been about improving the entire transportation system, which is why professional traffic engineers and analysts work on detailed assessments of system effects. These effects are then reviewed and approved by city and state traffic engineers and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) who are ultimately responsible for the safe and efficient operation of our transportation network.
Mr. Weaver states that LTD should consider impacts to adjacent neighborhoods. EmX development considers these impacts carefully, and a review of population and jobs adjacent to the proposed EmX line are a prime reason that the Eugene City Council, the LTD Board, and the Metropolitan Policy Committee selected the 6th/7th/11th route. Nearby residents will be connected to fast, frequent, and reliable transit service through the envisioned EmX. Employees will have better connections to and from work, and businesses will be able to attract new customers from throughout the region. In addition, the EmX route selected by the community was refined specifically to avoid causing traffic to be diverted into adjacent residential neighborhoods.
In the coming months, LTD will complete three key steps in the development of EmX in West Eugene. First, the West Eugene EmX project must compete with transportation projects from around the United States for federal funding. LTD is preparing a grant application that will be submitted in September 2011. Second, an environmental analysis will be completed and submitted to the Federal Transit Administration for review. Following the FTA review, a public review will occur in late 2011. Third, the LTD Board and Eugene City Council, after analyzing the data currently being collected including an analysis of operating costs, will again hold a vote on the project.
Exciting things are happening in our community. New retail opportunities, like the opening of Cabela’s, have popped up around existing EmX corridors. Three significant projects are underway in downtown Eugene, plus the addition of the new hotel at 5th Street Public Market, all around the hub of LTD’s downtown transit station. Having just completed the Matthew Knight Arena, the University is working on a new residence hall and a new science building. PeaceHealth is moving forward with the reconstruction of Sacred Heart Hospital-University District, creating even more opportunities for employees and visitors to fully utilize both EmX and other LTD bus service.
To prepare for present and future growth, an enhanced transportation system is critical. The goal of a West Eugene EmX Extension line would be to make these destinations more easily accessible to people throughout Eugene-Springfield, while simultaneously making businesses and residences in West Eugene more easily accessible by more people. Taking one step at a time, we will meet the needs of today while ensuring that our children and grandchildren will be able to enjoy our community for generations to come.
Mike Eyster is the President of the Lane Transit District Board of Directors