The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) is in the process of planning and evaluating the construction of a high-speed railway from the Eugene-Springfield area to Portland.
Last night, ODOT held an open house at the Eugene Public Library. Members of the public attended to gain more knowledge and state their input on the project.
According to ODOT’s website, within the next 25 years, the population of the Willamette Valley is estimated to grow by 35 percent, reaching approximately 3.6 million people by 2035.
With this population increase, travel demand will surpass the available passenger rail capacity that is readily available.
The passenger railway would not only encourage more Oregonians to use public transportation, but it would help eliminate traffic and congestion on the freeway, said Kitty Piercy, co-chair of the Passenger Rail Leadership Council.
Currently, the project is in the evaluation phase, which means they are speaking with the public and deciding on preliminary alternatives, or the best potential rail routes between Eugene-Springfield and Portland.
“We’re trying to figure out a general passenger rail route that would work for most people and we are weighing options for train frequency, trip time and improving on-time performance,” said Jill Pearson, ODOT Stakeholder Engagement Strategist.
The Oregon Passenger Rail Leadership Council complies the comments the public fills out and reviews them to see if their suggestions would be viable options for the project, said Jim Cox, Project Manager for the Passenger Rail.
The council meets on Dec. 17 to decide on a final plan for the project. The Federal Rail Administration (FRA) will then evaluate the council’s recommendations and will make the ultimate decision of constructing the 125-mile railway segment.
“We’ll see what happens,” Pearson said. “The other option too is that there is a no build. That we aren’t ready for (the Passenger Railway) yet.”
ODOT and the FRA are now working on the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) that requires analysis and reporting of the environmental impacts the railway may potentially have.
A $4.2 million federal grant was issued to ODOT for the project. A total of 42 percent of the project is federal funded, while the rest is state funded.
University of Oregon student Paul Belton jaunts up to the Rose City once a month in his car to visit friends.
He said that if a one-way ticket on the passenger railway were half the cost a tank of gas, then he would definitely use the public transportation system.
“My biggest concern is the cost of tickets and making it a competitive option,” Belton said. “I know people have the cost as their biggest deciding factor.”
As of now, ODOT cannot estimate the price of a ticket because the project is still in its early stages. Cox said that it all depends on the operation cost and the amount of people who will use the public transportation system.
In December of 2014, ODOT plans to have a completed draft of the NEPA that will provide more information regarding the railway’s benefits, impacts, ridership and cost of a ticket.
According to Cox, ODOT is aiming to have the passenger railway save riders approximately 30 minutes of travel time.