BEST, other community leaders say more work needed on regional transportation plan

By Claire Roth
January 7, 2022

BEST and other community leaders charge that the region’s transportation plan does not yet serve regional interests and are calling for a revised plan by the end of 2022.

Testifying on January 6, 2022 to the Metropolitan Policy Committee (MPC)—the policy body for the Central Lane Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO)—BEST executive director Rob Zako said, “As you have not yet discussed how to invest an estimated $1.65 billion over 20 years nor which projects are priorities, your work is not yet done in terms of serving regional interests.”

At issue is the Central Lane Regional Transportation Plan (RTP), the framework for major transportation investments over the next 20 years in the Eugene-Springfield-Coburg region.

MPC consists of ten officials representing six jurisdictions: the cities of Eugene, Springfield, and Coburg; Lane County; Lane Transit District; and the Oregon Department of Transportation.

Federal law requires the Central Lane MPO to adopt an updated plan every four years in order to continue receiving federal funding for transportation.

Zako noted that the RTP is essentially a compilation of plans previously adopted by member jurisdictions.

Central Lane MPO Area. Source: Lane Council of Governments

In 2018, Lane Council of Government (LCOG) staff started work to update the RTP with a strategic assessment and work to incorporate performance measures into transportation decision making.

In 2019, staff first briefed MPC on the RTP update.

In July 2020, BEST and other communities leaders called on MPC to do more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation.

In December 2020 responding to public comments, MPC directed staff to include climate change and other goals in the RTP.

But it wasn’t until late October 2021 that staff provided a draft plan that detailed how to invest an estimated $1.65 billion in transportation projects. Staff said that MPC needed to adopt the plan in December 2021 in order to continue receiving federal funding for transportation.

At a public hearing on November 4, 2021, BEST and other community leaders complained about having only six days to review the draft plan and called for a second public hearing.

In response, the Central Lane MPO scheduled a second public hearing on December 2, 2021.

Notwithstanding concerns raised by BEST and other community leaders, on January 6, 2022, MPC adopted the RTP as presented in order to satisfy federal requirements. But they also directed staff to work to revise the plan by the end of 2022 and to come back every month to make progress towards that objective.

BEST’s oral comments to MPC on January 6, 2021

I am Rob Zako, executive director of Better Eugene-Springfield Transportation.

Thank you for your public service and for this opportunity to speak with you.

Today you are being asked to adopt an updated regional transportation plan to satisfy federal requirements.

But I trust that each of you on the Central Lane MPO aspires to do more that meet minimum legal requirements. Each of you aspires to serve the needs of the Central Lane region today and into the future.

Over a year ago you started to discuss those needs when you provided guidance on goals, objectives, and performance measures. That was a good discussion and the result, Chapter 2 in the plan, is good—as far as it goes.

But as legendary Oregon planner John Fregonese was fond of saying, vision without action is hallucination. As we testified a year ago, where the rubber meets the road is where you plan to invest public monies. As you have not yet discussed how to invest an estimated $1.65 billion over 20 years nor which projects are priorities, your work is not yet done in terms of serving regional interests.

So what is to be done?

First, if it satisfies the Feds, feel free to adopt the plan today.

Second, please understand this document is not yet a fully vetted plan for the Central Lane region and thus we do not yet know how well it serves regional interests. As such, please be on notice that some members of the public will consider this a provisional plan and will not give it the deference normally given to one that has been fully vetted by the public and you, our representatives.

Third, please be on notice that we will be paying attention to every single Metropolitan Transportation Improvement Program, or MTIP for short, amendment that comes before you. We will testify at public hearings, and we will evaluate projects on a case-by-case basis, letting you know which we believe are in the public interest and which are outdated and no longer needed. Just because a project is in this plan does not automatically mean it should be funded.

Fourth, as the Central Lane MPO has not yet done so, BEST and our partners are looking to engage the public in assessing which investments do the most to advance shared goals. As we have detailed before, we welcome you, your staff, and your constituents to engage collaboratively in such a more robust process. More details on this effort to come.

Finally, insofar as we do not have a fully vetted plan, we urge you to direct your staff to support you, with public input, to begin immediately assessing regional investment priorities. We recommend that the result of this process be a revised plan that you can adopt to supersede the one before you today. Moreover, we urge you to aim to complete this revised plan not in another 4 or 5 years but by the end of this year at the latest. With wildfires getting worse and worse, we simply can’t wait several more summers to plan for a better future.

Read more stories about the RTP.

Learn more about BEST’s work on the RTP.