This Wednesday, the Oregon Department of Transportation will confirm which of the 15 projects it will fund in this, the first year, of the Urban Trail Fund (UTF). Eugene is home to one of three recommended projects by the Oregon Transportation Commission. Eugene’s “Amazon and Willamette River Path Connector” project is expected to construct four important connectors to link the Amazon Path and Willamette River Path with the local street network, transit stops and on-street bike facilities. Lee Shoemaker, City of Eugene Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator, said that three of the connections will be to the popular West Bank River Path at Fir Lane, Rasor Park, and Merry Lane. The fourth project will lead from 30th Ave. to the Amazon Path. Read on for more about the UTF and more specifics on the Eugene project.
The Urban Trail Fund came out of the 2009 State Legislature and the “Oregon Jobs and Transportation Act”. As the UTF application states, the funds are meant to “develop and maintain multi-use trails for non-motorized vehicles and pedestrians, within urban growth boundaries, to provide or improve links to roads and highways, footpaths, bike trails, and public transit.” Priority was given to projects that had “high-impact” and that demonstrated trails as an important part of the transportation system, especially in communities that have already shown commitment through previous investment in urban trails. The turn-around was pretty quick for the application (it opened June 1 and closed on July 9) and the building time frame is pretty short as well. Communities had to show they were ready to build since the projects must be complete in 2011, which doesn’t leave a lot of time for design, acquisition, or other major non-construction endeavors.
Eugene’s application most likely hit on almost all the major criteria which included system benefit, readiness, technical merit, support (in adopted plans, investment to date, etc.), and impact or “potential to improve public awareness of trails as transportation facilities or to reduce motor vehicle use and increase walking or bicycling for short trips.”
ODOT received 15 applications totaling $15 million and there were just $970,000 available. The original grant application for Eugene was for $625,000 but during the application process all three recommended grants were asked to make “minor scope changes” to bring the total grant amounts down from over 1 million dollars to the total of $970,000 for the three communities. Eugene’s grant application is still the largest at $460,000.
The four missing links this project will fix would help cyclists and pedestrians connect with an already popular path system and have been called for many times by community members.
The Fir connection will most likely be a new sidewalk to connect River Road with the path system since this important access point is lacking one.
The Rasor Park area is crisscrossed with ‘goat trails’ or ‘desire lines’ and a paved path through this area will help connect a whole section of the River Road neighborhood up with the River Path. Shoemaker said that the path alignment will be done to line up with existing crossings. That would seem to be either north at Park where there is a traffic signal or south near Knoop Lane where a pedestrian activated signal went in earlier this year. It will be interesting to see how they make the jog from the path up or down River Road to access those crossings, as they don’t seem to line up with the park that well.
The Merry Lane path connection is interesting–it is being done in conjunction with work the Army Corp of Engineers is doing with a new natural channeling project in the area, so it will include a small bridge. The path will provide a good connection that is halfway between the Crest path connection and the Howard Avenue street connection. Once again, how pedestrians and cyclists are routed once to River Road will be an important component to the project as well.
Finally, the connection from 30th Ave. to the Amazon Path will allow cyclists to avoid the 29th & Amazon Parkway intersection altogether (with its many right turners, dog park drivers, and LTD buses) and finally use the path that currently only links to 30th Ave. and requires a bit of zig-zag through the neighborhood before connecting up with the Amazon Path.
It’s exciting to see the City of Eugene receive more funding to create these important connections to our great path system. Beyond the path connectors Shoemaker said that the projects will most likely include wayfinding signage, bike racks, and other path amenities and improvements. David Roth, City of Eugene Transportation Planner, also stated that they would like to install street signs on the path as well so that path users “know where they are in the system”.
Once word becomes official on Wednesday we’ll see what other information we can get about the projects.
Oh yes, and two other communities, Gresham and Astoria, will also receive funding through the UTF. To read more about that, check out the always great (and news breaking) BikePortland coverage.