Byline: Greg Bolt The Register-Guard
Correction (published July 18, 2012): The Lane Transit District may have to buy portions of 117 properties to complete the west Eugene extension of the EmX bus line. A story on Tuesday's Page A1 incorrectly stated the number at 177 properties.
A key environmental analysis of the controversial extension of bus rapid transit lines into west Eugene has determined that the project would not cause significant harm to the region.
The finding, which was expected, is another milestone in the effort to add a third leg to the Lane Transit District's EmX system.
The document's release opens a 45-day public comment period before a final report can be approved.
Following the comment period and a review of any issues that are raised, the Federal Transit Administration is expected to issue what is known as a formal finding of no significant impact later this fall. That would be the final federal approval needed for the project to begin.
"This is really good news," said Andy Vobora, LTD's marketing director. "This is a big milestone for us."
The district will hold two public drop-in sessions to explain the environmental report and answer questions.
They will be held July 25 and Aug. 7 at the LTD Next Stop Center, 1099 Olive St.. Project staff members will be on hand from noon to 7 p.m.
Assuming the analysis holds up, it would be up to the LTD board and Eugene City Council to take final votes on the west Eugene route. If both approve, the district will begin designing the route, with construction expected to begin in 2015 and service starting in 2017.
LTD board President Greg Evans said the board's decision probably would wait until after the council has taken action.
The council debate is likely to be controversial given the continued opposition to the extension, led mainly by people who work at or own businesses along the route.
Opponents with the group Our Money Our Transit believe the route is too expensive, would hurt businesses, would worsen congestion in the area and should be put to a vote of the general public.
The group has fought the project, and its supporters have lined much of the proposed route with anti-EmX signs. It has even paid for advertising on the backs of LTD buses calling for an end to the project.
Bob Macherione of Our Money Our Transit dismissed the environmental analysis as a rehash of information that the group believes is inaccurate while omitting information that would question the project's feasibility.
"It's basically a repeat of the same propaganda they've been pushing, with things represented as fact that are not fact," he said.
The group believes LTD is fudging the cost estimates by using figures based on average fleet costs instead of considering only the cost of running EmX lines, which they say is higher than the average.
They also say the service would worsen congestion in west Eugene because buses would run more often and would stop in traffic lanes to pick up and drop off passengers, impeding other vehicles.
Opponents already have sued to stop the project, but the lawsuit was thrown out, in part because of timing issues. Macherione said further legal action remains a possibility.
"We'll take whatever steps are necessary," he said. "There are still a couple of legal options for us."
The federally required environmental analysis, compiled for the LTD and the FTA by an array of consultants and experts, looked at how the project would affect the human, economic and social environment along the route.
It found only limited negative effects that would be offset by benefits from the extension, including reduced travel time, less congestion, more reliable public transit and better access between west Eugene and the rest of the Eugene- Springfield area. …