MovingAhead: Frequently Asked Questions

By Rob Zako
August 22, 2022

What is MovingAhead? Who is behind it? What will it do? Who will pay for it? BEST answers some frequently asked questions we are hearing.

Complete Street Design Standards: Commercial Main Street. Source: City of Eugene

UPDATE 8/26/22: This information was corrected and expanded.

What is MovingAhead? Who is behind it? What will it do? Who will pay for it?

To get answers to some frequently asked questions we are hearing, we did our own independent research and then double checked with local experts. The following information represents our best understanding.

What’s the short answer?

In a nutshell, MovingAhead is studying some of Eugene’s busiest streets and how to provide safe access for everyone, whether walking, biking, using mobility devices, riding the bus, or driving. We need to first make sure everyone can get where they are going safely. Then we can seek to make travel convenient, quick, and reliable. Experts refer to streets that serve everyone as “complete streets.”

BEST supports the direction MovingAhead is going. In October 2019, BEST provided our initial analysis and recommendations. In March 2022, we provided our revised analysis and recommendations, including for needed next steps.

What is MovingAhead and who is behind it?

MovingAhead “is a partnership between the City of Eugene and Lane Transit District (LTD) to study and prioritize investment options on [major transportation] corridors to improve safety and access for people walking, biking, using mobility devices, and riding public transit.“

Other government partners include the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), Lane County, and the Metropolitan Policy Committee (MPC), a.k.a. the Central Lane Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO).

Originally, the City of Springfield was invited to participate in MovingAhead but determined it had resources to pursue only the Main-McVay Transit Study separately, in partnership with LTD.

Source: MovingAhead FAQ

Why are transportation investments needed?

In recent years, the City of Eugene has adopted various plans and policies:

  • Envision Eugene: Outlines how Eugene can grow responsibly, building on seven pillars reflecting community values. One pillar is to promote compact urban development and efficient transportation options, including walking, biking, and riding the bus, especially along identified “Key Corridors.”
  • 2035 Transportation System Plan: Plans transportation in Eugene over the next 20 years. It calls for a tripling of the percentage of active transportation trips, which include walking and biking.
  • Vision Zero Action Plan: Details actions towards the City’s goal of no deaths or life-changing injuries on our streets, including actions on the “High Crash Network.”
  • Climate Action Plan 2.0: Outlines how to achieve the City’s goal to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half, including by reducing motor vehicle trips.

Taken together, these adopted plans call for changes to some of our most important streets.

MovingAhead is an effort to study and prioritize some investment options to advance these adopted community goals.

An early step of MovingAhead was to detail the Preliminary Purpose and Need, Goals and Objectives of the effort.

Which streets are under consideration?

MovingAhead is studying not separate streets but rather some major transportation corridors, i.e., major travel routes.

Since late 2015, MovingAhead has focused on five corridors as most appropriate for major investments:

  1. Highway 99 corridor — Key Corridor, High Crash Network
  2. River Road corridor — Key Corridor, High Crash Network
  3. Coburg Road corridor — Key Corridor, High Crash Network
  4. Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard corridor — High Crash Network
  5. 30th Avenue/Lane Community College corridor

Previously, six other corridors were studied and then dropped from further consideration as part of MovingAhead:

  1. West 18th Avenue corridor — High Crash Network
  2. Randy Papé Beltline Highway corridor — High Crash Network
  3. Valley River Center corridor
  4. Main Street corridor (Springfield)
  5. McVay Highway corridor (Springfield)
  6. Bob Straub Parkway corridor (Springfield)

Sources: Level 1 Screening Evaluation, Envision Eugene, Vision Zero.

Why is MovingAhead more complicated than repairing streets?

If you are confused by MovingAhead, you aren’t alone. It’s complicated. Hold on as we dive into the twists and turns of federal funding for local transportation projects!

In November 2022, Eugene voters will have a direct say on whether the City of Eugene should continue to use a voter-approved bond to repair city streets. In this case, we know the City of Eugene is behind the effort. We know that nothing will happen without voter approval. We know that if approved by voters, a specific list of streets will be repaired. We know the level of property taxes needed to support this work. And we know the City of Eugene intends to complete the repairs over five years.

But MovingAhead is different because it involves not local funding but substantially federal funding. Most of the City of Eugene’s own transportation funding is used to repair streets. Most of LTD’s funding is used to operate regular bus service. Thus to make other transportation investments, the City of Eugene and LTD typically have to apply for federal (or state) grants.

Under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970 (NEPA), a federal agency is required to assess the environmental impacts, both negative and positive, of a proposed action prior to making a decision.

For MovingAhead, the federal decision at issue is whether or not a federal agency, likely the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), will provide grant funding to design and build a segment of MovingAhead.

What is the federally-required decision process for MovingAhead?

The details of the decision process depend on what kind of federal grant funding is being sought. But a typical process is to access a Small Starts grant from the FTA:

  1. FTA Approval: Project Development
    • Complete environmental review process including developing and reviewing alternatives, selecting locally preferred alternative (LPA), and adopting it into fiscally constrained long range transportation plan
    • Gain commitments of all non-5309 funding
    • Complete sufficient engineering and design
  2. FTA evaluation, rating, and approval: Construction Grant Agreement
    • Construction

Source: FTA Capital Investment Program.

See also: A Citizen’s Primer on the Federal New Starts/Small Starts Process.

What has already been decided?

Again, this is complicated.

MovingAhead is still working on the very first step to complete the environmental review process, required by NEPA.

To do so, since late 2014 or 2015, the City of Eugene and LTD have been working with consultants, engaging with the public, and checking in with officials on an Alternatives Analysis.

Earlier this year, the Eugene City Council (on March 14, 2022), LTD Board of Directors (on March 16, 2022), and MPC (on May 5, 2022) adopted a locally preferred alternative (LPA) for each corridor under study. As the name indicates, this decision represents a preference, subject to further review.

EmX: Of the five corridors under study, local officials prefer the EmX alternative for just one corridor:

  • River Road corridor

Enhanced Corridor: Local officials prefer the Enhanced Corridor alternative for three other corridors:

  • Highway 99 corridor
  • Coburg Road corridor (after additional study)
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard corridor

No Build: Finally, officials prefer the No Build alternative for one corridor:

  • 30th Avenue/Lane Community College corridor

It is necessary to adopt a LPA — other than No Build — just to be eligible to apply for federal grant funding.

More broadly, the decision to adopt the LPAs represents a commitment towards “complete streets” for everyone, whether you walk, bike, ride the bus, or drive.

What are the differences between EmX, Enhanced Corridor, and No Build?

Again, it’s complicated.

MovingAhead explains, “Enhanced Corridor and EmX use the same set of tools, but differ in the amount of investment.”

EmX, short for Emerald Express, is LTD’s brand name for its implementation of bus rapid transit (BRT). It involves special buses that require special stations that provide for level boarding and equipped with off-vehicle ticket machines, which reduce the time it takes for passengers to board. EmX may also, but does not necessarily, involve dedicated or business access transit (BAT) lanes, and special traffic lights that enable buses to “queue jump” to get ahead of other vehicles when running in mixed traffic.

Enhanced Corridor is a lesser form of BRT. It may include many of the same elements as EmX, including dedicated or BAT lanes. Perhaps the key difference is that Enhanced Corridor does not involve special EmX buses or stations. Although Enhanced Corridor could use some other kind of enhanced buses, it is most likely that it will use regular buses in LTD’s fleet.

No Build does not actually mean that nothing will be built or changed, only that nothing will be built as part of this project. Although under MovingAhead the locally preferred alternative for the 30th Avenue/Lane Community College corridor is No Build, separately the City of Eugene is partnering with Lane County to improve safety and access for people walking and biking along 30th Avenue.

Source: MovingAhead FAQ

What comes next?

The resolution the Eugene City Council adopted on March 14, 2022, explains: “Selection of a locally preferred alternative for each corridor will allow staff to conduct design refinement, coordinate with property owners and permitting agencies, schedule corridor improvements, and pursue funding.”

The cover memo for the MPC meeting on May 5, 2022, explains: “Once an LPA is adopted by MPC, staff will prepare a report that summarizes and wraps up this phase of the MovingAhead project. Staff will then begin to refine the designs along the corridors, including by engaging key stakeholders, seek funding, and complete the environmental review process. This may be accomplished incrementally along some corridors and on a whole-corridor scale on others. Eugene City Council has expressed that their highest priorities for staff are Highway 99 and River Road.”

It is important to note that the adoption of locally preferred alternatives (LPAs) is not the final word, but rather an expression of a preference based on the level of analysis conducted to date.

Next steps include:

  • Amend  the Central Lane Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) to include any planned MovingAhead projects.
  • Refine conceptual designs into detailed designs.
  • Undertake a rigorous environmental review process and gain federal approval.
  • Secure federal and non-federal funding.

Before construction can begin, the Eugene City Council and/or the LTD Board of Directors need to take action at key checkpoints:

  • Approve Capital Investment Program (CIP).
  • Approve annual budget.
  • Approve any private property to be acquired.

Along the way there will be additional opportunities for public engagement, particularly with property owners and stakeholders who may be particularly impacted. Staff expect to begin this work in early 2023.

For now, the LTD Board of Directors and the Lane County Board of Commissioners are requesting updates on MovingAhead in September 2022.

At any point in the process, new information could lead to revising or even reconsidering what are the LPAs today.

The diagram below summarizes the phases to develop a project such as MovingAhead. As of Spring 2022, MovingAhead has just completed a middle step (“Select LPA”) in the “Planning” phase:

A typical project development process. Source: General Accounting Office

Will the number of motor vehicle lanes change?

Maybe. Perhaps even probably.

The fundamental issue is that some current streets, for example, River Road in Eugene and Main Street in Springfield, have five lanes for motor vehicle traffic and little to no space for people walking or biking. Moreover, buses are forced to compete with other motor vehicles, slowing both down.

The fact is that to improve safety and access for people walking, biking, using mobility devices, and riding public transit will require changes to streets that are currently designed primarily for the benefit of people driving.

The changes could be EmX or Enhanced Corridor, and could include converting some motor vehicle lanes into business access and transit (BAT) or dedicated transit lanes.

But even No Build alternatives could change the number of motor vehicles lanes. The City of Eugene as part of its project to repave South Willamette Street reduced the number of motor vehicle lanes from four to three—with no significant impacts on travel times or businesses. The City of Portland is converting some of its major streets to have lanes primarily for buses, just by painting those lanes red.

See also:

Will private property be acquired?

Maybe. But probably not much, if any.

The City of Eugene or LTD cannot acquire property without going through a process that involves one-on-one discussions with a potentially affected property owner. In the past for West Eugene EmX, efforts were made to avoid or minimize impacts on property owners. When there is a need to acquire some property, for example, for a new transit station, property owners are compensated. And the Eugene City Council and/or LTD Board of Directors need to approve any property acquisitions.

Will trees be cut?

Maybe. Perhaps even probably.

But the West Eugene EmX project resulted in a net increase of 200 trees. With MovingAhead, we can similarly expect to see more trees planted than are cut, for these to be species better suited to being along a street, and to be planted in such a way as to better protect their roots and promote healthy growth.

Will bus service change?

Most likely—with or without MovingAhead.

It is a best practice for a transit agency every few years to conduct a comprehensive operations analysis (COA) to check whether it is continuing to serve the community well or if changes in service make sense. LTD is looking to conduct a COA, regardless of the outcome of MovingAhead. Especially as our community comes out of the pandemic, it is likely that needs have shifted and that it will make sense for LTD to shift service, providing more in some places and less in others.

Regardless, one of the benefits of EmX or Enhanced Corridor is that it is typically less costly to operate bus service. When buses are stuck in traffic with motor vehicles, LTD needs to run more buses to provide a given frequency of service, say, every 15 minutes. By reducing conflicts between buses and other motor vehicles, Enhanced Corridor and especially EmX not only provide faster bus service but also do so for less cost.

Will local taxes increase?

Not likely.

Under Oregon law, the power of a transit agency, such as LTD, to tax is strictly prescribed. LTD’s main tax is an employer payroll tax, which is limited to be no more than 0.8%. As the tax is almost at that level already, LTD can’t really raise that tax significantly.

The City of Eugene funds transportation investments with a local gas tax and a property tax. But both of these primarily support repairing streets.

There just aren’t mechanisms available to increase local taxes. Rather MovingAhead is aiming to tap into federal (and state) grants to fund design and construction.

When will construction begin?

Before construction can begin, the next steps highlighted above need to be completed.

Based on past experience, this process could take a few years. For example, when the Eugene City Council approved West Eugene EmX in September 2012, that project was further along than MovingAhead is today: There was not just a sketched out locally preferred alternative but a more detailed design and a complete environmental assessment. Even so, construction did not begin until three years later in the summer of 2015.

See also

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