Beltline Highway, Eugene, Oregon
10 and 11 lane widening options: over a quarter billion dollars
Several years ago, there was considerable public controversy over plans to spend a quarter million dollars to rename Beltline highway after Randy Pape, a highway contractor who was also an Oregon Transportation Commissioner (in charge of determining ODOT policies). There has not been similar scrutiny about ODOT plans to spend over a quarter billion dollars to expand Beltline highway to up to eleven lanes - not even from Eugene's fabled environmental groups.
May 6, 2010
The controversy over spending a quarter million dollars to rename Beltline highway after Randy Papé overlooks the state’s plan to spend a thousand times more to widen our Beltline.
ODOT is spending millions to study expanding Beltline to 11 lanes wide, which would be the biggest road between Seattle and Sacramento. In November 2008, the Governor's "Transportation Vision Committee" said this would cost $250 million, part of an $18 billion plan for new and wider state highways.
In June 2001, Randy Papé, Jim Torrey and Bobby Green were part of the "West Eugene Charette," an intergovernmental summit that concluded the West Eugene Parkway was illegal and overpriced. Papé and other promoters then changed their minds and pushed through an advisory vote which split 51-49, claiming "the money is there" even though it was not. He then had ODOT spend $3 million to "study" the WEP despite knowing it couldn't be built — money that could have fixed the West 11th intersections.
Global oil production peaked in 2008, so planning bigger highways for the downslope of energy production is a waste worse than signs to honor a campaign contributor to the governor. If governments were really concerned about "sustainability," they would cancel plans to widen highways. ODOT doesn't even have the funds to study upgrading the railroad between Eugene and Portland to have high(er) speed rail, which would be more useful during the twilight of the oil era.
Mark Robinowitz, Eugene
Oregon Transportation Commission
EFFECTIVE DATE OCT. 15, 1991
PAGE NUMBER 1 OF 1
OREGON TRANSPORTATION COMMISSION MINUTES – OCTOBER 15, 1991
NAMING HIGHWAY FACILITIES
The following guidelines are to be applied on a case-by-case basis:
I. The Oregon Transportation Commission generally will not name highway facilities after individuals.
II. The Oregon Transportation Commission may elect to suspend Guideline 1 if a requester can show compliance with the following criteria:
1. Demonstrated statewide support for naming a facility.
2. The honored individual shall have made a lasting contribution, with a significant and historic impact on Oregon.
3. The honored individual shall have been deceased for at least one year.
4. The facility is long enough to merit a title, such as a bridge or tunnel more than one-half mile long, or a highway section with defined end-points which was completed as a whole.
III. The comments of the Oregon Geographic Names Board will be solicited prior to naming any highway facility. (Any federal recognition will be contingent upon their approval.)
FUTURE OF HIGHWAYS
EW’s year-end issue Dec. 31 discussed some dreams for the region’s rivers; here are two extra topics that are usually ignored.
ODOT is plotting an 11-lane-wide Beltline bridge over the Willamette River. The city of Eugene and Lane County are collaborating with this scheme, which is estimated to cost over a quarter billion dollars.
According to ODOT, traffic peaked in Lane County in 2003, yet the Beltline study claims it will increase nearly a third over the next 20 years. Will we have traffic jams after the low-flow shutdown of the Alaska pipeline and the decline of the fracking bubble?
The millions allocated for this bogus Environmental Impact Statement would be better spent directly on the Beltline “low-build” safety alternative to fix the Delta/Beltline interchange.
One response to energy depletion and climate change would be better intercity rail. Funds to widen Beltline would be better spent replacing the worn-out railroad bridge across the Willamette between Junction City and Harrisburg. Details at peaktraffic.org/beltline.html.
Perhaps the biggest damage to Oregon’s rivers is from corporate clearcuts and helicopter herbicides. While National Forest logging gets some scrutiny, the bigger problem of corporate cutting and spraying is rarely mentioned. This damage is permitted by our Democratic governor via the Oregon Department of Forestry.
Deforestation doesn’t only harm water quality, it also disrupts the hydrologic cycle, one of the factors behind climate change. Forestclimate.org has video from the “Clearcutting the Climate” conference that was held in Eugene in 2008.
Mark Robinowitz, Eugene
During the controversies over the West Eugene Porkway, the region's "Trans Plan" had an entry to allocate $13 million toward widening Beltline in north Eugene. One of the ODOT planners of the WEP told me that he thought $100 million would be a more realistic estimate for an expansion. But even this was an understatement. In 2008, the Governor's "Transportation Vision Committee" said the Beltline widening would cost $250 million. In 2014, there are now three options for widening the bridge across the river that range from just under this figure to a bit more, but none of the cost estimates include purchase of private properties.
Shortly after ODOT conceded the WEP was not going to be built, ODOT proposed widening Beltline to up to 11 lanes wide where it crosses the Willamette river. They didn't move forward with an Environmental Impact Statement since their funding priorities were the widenings of I-5 at Beltline, Highway 58 and the bridges across the Willamette and McKenzie rivers. Now that those projects are completed (the I-5 Beltline interchange is almost finished), ODOT is refocusing attention on the Beltline widening and has redesigned expansion options in preparation for an EIS.
ODOT assumes that Beltline will experience a 28% increase in traffic over the next two decades, necessitating massive widening of the highway. However, traffic peaked in Lane County in 2003 and the fuel source that powers this traffic - the Alaska Pipeline - continues to decline.
Fracking for oil in North Dakota has not reached the levels of Alaska's peak in 1988. In addition, fracked wells deplete much faster than conventional wells. Fracking is a short term bubble that will be much lower levels by the mid 2030s, when the Beltline project is ostensibly designed to address. (Federal law requires federal aid highways to plan for conditions two decades in the future.) In 2014, the US Department of Energy admitted that plans for fracking in California's Monterrey Shale were mostly an illusion and downsized estimated oil reserves by 96%.
Electric cars and hybrids might help mitigate the energy crisis, but they won't prevent the impacts of depletion of oil (and coal and natural gas). These technologies also require huge inputs of mineral ores which require lots of energy to mine and process. They will have minimal impact on slowing Peak Traffic on the energy downslope.
Albert Einstein cautioned that the splitting of the atom had changed everything except our way of thinking and thus we drift toward catastrophe. Today, we are in similar denial about reaching the limits to growth on a round, finite planet, the root cause of the environmental, energy and economic "triple crisis." Depletion denial is more widespread than climate change denial.
Peak Traffic and Peak Energy Alternative needed
Environmental Impact Statements are required to consider a range of alternatives, but ODOT (and Federal Highway Administration) have narrowed the study to focus solely on which expansion to approve. Two of their options would widen Beltline plus build a new four lane highway parallel to Beltline (even though the roads it would connect to are merely two lanes wide). A third option - the most expensive option - would add "collector distributor" lanes (local / express) to Beltline.
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires revising a study with a Supplemental EIS when there are "new circumstances" relevant to a project. Reaching Peak Traffic (Vehicle Miles Traveled) and Peak Energy are such a circumstance, but none of the levels of government involved in this boondoggle want to admit this in public.
10 and 11 lane options at Beltline crossing of Willamette River
Low Build Alternative: safety fixes for the energy downslope
ODOT has removed the "Low Build" options from the Beltline widening project, claiming that they are inadequate to address alleged increases in traffic volumes in the coming decades. But if Peak Traffic and constrained budgets were factored into their study, the Low Build option would be seen as the Preferred Alternative.
The 2009 maps published by ODOT showed three Low Build options.
Low Build option one included longer off ramps for Beltline at the Delta interchange.
Low Build option two included option one plus longer on ramps from Delta and a tweak to the curvature of the Beltline eastbound to Delta northbound ramp. It also recommended disconnecting the onramp to Beltline east from River Avenue.
Low Build option three included one and two, plus changing the ramps at the Delta / Beltline interchange to remove the "weaving" problems for merging traffic. Eastbound Beltline traffic to northbound Delta would use the existing ramp to southbound Delta, but a traffic light would be added at Delta to facilitate a left turn onto northbound Delta. The attached map makes this easier to visualize. the merge lane for Delta to westbound Beltline would also be extended.
Low Build has been removed, but it's the only option that is affordable and appropriate for Peak Traffic and the declining Alaska Pipeline (which powers the motors of Oregon).
Low Build could be approved without wasting millions for a study of expanded options that won't be needed on the energy downslope. These millions of our dollars would be better spent fixing the Delta interchange ramps instead of giving them to consulting companies.
ODOT recently reduced the final total for the I-5 Beltline interchange by $6.2 million, removing the planned fourth lane for I-5 southbound from the interchange. This is probably in the range of what the Low Build option would cost.
Most of Oregon's highway infrastructure was built before the threat of the Cascadia Subduction Zone was discovered in the 1980s. Beltline's bridge across the river was built in the 1960s and probably would not survive the expected five minutes of severe shaking that the CSZ will cause.
ODOT has been scrambling for the past decade to try to repair worn out bridges, both due to the expected seismic risks as well as bridges in danger of closure due to overweight log trucks causing premature failure of these structures. The very real problems of worn out bridges is being used in a "bait and switch" campaign to persuade the public that highway widening is needed, even though the extra funds required to widen new bridges makes fixing the existing problems more difficult to fund. In other words, if worn out bridges were replaced with new ones of the same width, we would be more able to afford replacing "troubled bridges over water."
If the Beltline bridge is at the end of its life, then figuring out how to replace it - not triple its width - should be a priority, but this would not require spending hundreds of millions of dollars.
Original widening proposals
Ramp Braid Concept
Beltline Highway widened to 11 lanes at river crossing
Delta Highway widened to 8 lanes south of Beltline interchange