County Puts Funds at Risk

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), July 18, 2010 | Go to article overview

County Puts Funds at Risk


Byline: The Register-Guard

How much is the Lane County Board of Commissioners prepared to throw away because of its groundless fears about an upgrade to Coburg's freeway interchange? More than a quarter of a billion dollars? The interests of other local governments and the state of Oregon? Trust in the county's willingness to abide by its commitments? All of these are in danger because of the county board's dilatory treatment of a vital intergovernmental transportation planning document.

Federal law requires that local governments adopt an updated Metropolitan Transportation Improvement Program every four years. Central Lane County's adopting agency is the Metropolitan Policy Committee, representing county government, the Lane Transit District, the state Department of Transportation and the cities of Eugene, Springfield and Coburg. Only those projects included in an updated transportation program will be eligible for federal funds in the next four years.

This month the MPC was set to approve a transportation program that includes 74 projects costing $269 million, with $123 million provided by the federal government and $146 million coming from state and local sources. Lane County's representatives on the committee, Peter Sorenson and Rob Handy, had reservations about one project - a set of improvements west of Interstate 5 in Coburg. The commissioners are worried that the improvements would lead to sprawl, and might commit the county to supporting a second, more expensive, phase of the project. MPC actions require the support of all member jurisdictions, so Lane County's lack of concurrence meant the updated transportation program could not be approved.

The update must be in the hands of the Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Transit Administration before the federal fiscal year begins on Oct. 1. The actual deadline is about a month earlier, because Gov. Ted Kulongoski's office must collate the transportation programs prepared by various parts of the state before submitting them to the federal agencies. Indeed, the MPC is already behind schedule - the governor's office would like to have regional plans in hand by the end of this month, and that's not going to happen.

The county board ensured a further delay at its meeting Wednesday, when it asked for a report on how all other transportation and planning documents would need to be amended to make sure the county was under no obligation to support improvements to the Coburg interchange beyond those included in the transportation program. This would entail altering nine approved plans. Some of the changes would have to be approved by more than one jurisdiction, and some would require analysis and review. …

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