BEST questions ODOT’s plans to widen Highway 126 West to make it safer

By Rob Zako
January 31, 2023

BEST supports efforts to protect all lives on roadways across Lane County. Although BEST supports some elements, we find that ODOT’s preferred alternative will encourage more and faster driving and have other negative impacts. Regardless, at an estimated cost of $250–350 million with no identified source of funding, the project is “too big to build.” BEST recommends making less costly targeted improvements before too many more tragedies occur.

OR 126: Veneta to Eugene NEPA Study Area. Source: ODOT

Executive Summary

BEST appreciates there is a safety problem along the segment of Highway 126 West under study. We want to reduce and ideally eliminate fatal and life-changing traffic crashes for all people, no matter how they choose to travel.

BEST appreciates that traffic along Highway 126 is expected to increase, but we are not seeing such high volumes as would necessitate adding travel lanes to maintain mobility and reduce congestion.

ODOT’s preferred alternative is to widen Highway 126 to as much as 164 feet and make other changes, for an estimated cost of $250 million or more.

BEST sees that some elements of ODOT’s preferred alternative are effective. But we are failing to see the need to add travel lanes, to add a center turn lane apart from at key intersections, or the need to widen shoulders on top of adding lanes. We see insufficient attention to reducing speeds to safe levels.

BEST sees ODOT’s preferred alternative as so expensive as to likely disappoint those who prefer it while at the same time imposing opportunity costs on many others across Lane County.

As it would be one of the largest highway construction projects in Lane County in decades, through wetlands with endangered species, and with concerns around effectiveness, cost, induced demand, and climate change, ODOT should take a deeper look at the potential impacts of its preferred alternative.

BEST wants Highway 126 to be safe for all travelers. Alas, we just don’t see that ODOT’s preferred alternative is effective and prudent, and that there is a reasonable chance that it will get funded and built any time soon, if ever. Meanwhile, people along the corridor will continue to be at risk, and efforts to push this one project forward will invariable draw resources away from other safety concerns around Lane County, leaving many other people at risk.

BEST believes the perfect is the enemy of the good. As part of exploring solutions for safety issues along Highway  126, we’d welcome an opportunity to (re)consider simpler targeted efforts that can actually get implemented before too many more tragedies occur.

Learn more about BEST’s efforts around Highway 126 West.