Expansion into the neighborhood threatens property values and quality of living
EUGENE, Ore. – The Lane Transit District has long considered a plan to expand its rapid bus line, the EmX, into West Eugene, but residents of the Jefferson Westside Neighborhood have already made up their minds.
The extension was proposed four years ago as part of a twenty-year transportation plan, with construction starting no earlier than 2015. Jefferson Westside splits between Downtown Eugene and the industrial district, and although bus routes already run on 11th, rapid transportation could improve access to the area.
“It’s a good idea,” said frequent-rider Kelly Jordan outside of her home on West 11th Avenue. Beginning at Eugene Station and following West 11th Avenue from Garfield into Eugene’s outskirts, the route splits Jefferson Westside along its main artery – and through the heart of a primarily residential neighborhood.
After its proposal, the Jefferson Westside neighborhood quickly criticized the plan and actively lobbies against it still. Short for “Emerald Express,” an EmX route would require the widening of 11th Ave. It would lessen the amount of parking spots and cut into front yards. It would also require clearing a significant amount of trees.
Neither requirement sits well with the neighbors, who argue that widening the street would lower the value of their homes. Jordan, who didn’t know that the project would require modifying 11th Ave., quickly agreed: “Living on this street, I’m not interested in them doing any construction.” She added, “I’m not for having them cut the trees down.”
Jefferson Westside is built under a canopy; by thinning it, neighbors feel it would be stripped of one of its defining characteristics. For many of Jefferson Westside’s residents, the EmX just doesn’t fit.
Jeanne-Marie Moore is legally blind, she walks eight blocks to get to work, and she believes that the LTD needs to address more important issues than expansion. “LTD has to provide paratransit for everyone who needs it,” she said. Her ride would cost $26 if she took the bus. Even more taxing, the bus stops along EmX routes are spread out to minimize delays. “People with energy-related disabilities suffer from that,” she argued.
As Eugene grows – city officials expect the population to grow by tens of thousands over the next 20 years – developing its neighborhoods and infrastructure to accommodate the boom is a priority. But in Jefferson Westside, urbanization must be guided and responsible. To represent the neighborhood’s interests, the neighbors formed the “3RT,” Residents for Responsible Rapid Transit, soon after the 11th Avenue plan was recommended.
For the EmX route, there are alternatives. Also being considered is a line along Sixth Avenue, an option that the residents of Jefferson Westside prefer. “Sixth Avenue would be perfect,” said Jordan. Though it could intensify congestion on Sixth Avenue, it would preserve the character that the 3RT champions. “We are at the cross hairs of this issue,” said Paul Conte, head of Jefferson Westside Neighbors, the neighborhood association. In Conte’s mind, the residents of Jefferson Westside are focused on maintaining its character and property value, and land use changes are scrutinized before the neighbors approve.
But mostly, Jefferson Westside residents just want to see things done right.
The Lane Transit District has yet to commit to any one option. A public meeting scheduled for May 5 to discuss EmX expansion into West Eugene did not take place.