The organization is studying options for service along proposed route

Elwood Martin of Shedd was hoping he could get answers to some concerns he had about the Oregon Passenger Rail project that is being proposed to run through the Willamette Valley from Eugene to Portland.

He was at Linn-Benton Community College for an event hosted by the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) to provide information on where the project currently stands. According to Jill Pearson, stakeholder engagement strategist for ODOT, the meetings are designed to get input.

“These meetings are important to the process,” she said. “We are urging public input.”

Martin was among a steady stream of interested people who attended the event.

“I want to see what’s going on,” he said. “Right now I’m not in favor of it. They have the Amtrak line, which seems to serve the purpose. If it were at maximum capacity, maybe there would be a need, but right now I don’t see the need. I want to see if there is something I’m missing.”

ODOT is studying the options available to provide what it says will be an improved passenger rail service along the 125-mile segment between Eugene-Springfield and Portland. Results from the study will determine a general passenger rail route as well as options for train frequency, trip time and on-time performance. The ultimate decision on the project will be in the hands of the Federal Railroad Administration. Both federal and state monies will fund the project. The current planning stages are being funded through a $4.2 million federal grant, plus another $5.8 million from ODOT.

Thursday’s open house format included evaluations from input received at earlier meetings dealing with potential rail routes along with overviews of proposals. The meeting was designed to get input from the public in order to narrow the list of alternatives for more detailed study. Public comments will help the group fine-tune the options for the proposal.

The stop in Albany is one of several to get input. A meeting was held in Eugene Wednesday, and additional stops are set for Oregon City and Portland next week.

Four route alternatives have been selected. Each includes a different route. Alternatives include options for using the current rail Amtrak Cascades route, laying new track, new station construction, bypassing some current stations and connecting new and existing rail.

Many of those at the meeting were from Corvallis and interested in how connections would be made. Bob Heald was one of those who had concerns.

“I am concerned that Corvallis could get bypassed,” Heald said. “I’ve heard one suggestion about some sort of bus system, but it would need to be cost-effective and run on time. What comes from this could affect Corvallis development.”

Michael Campbell and Jessica Zibnack of Corvallis were on a fact-finding mission but said they were impressed with the knowledge of the ODOT people they talked with.

“We want to find out how they plan to move people,” Campbell said. “We’re interested in finding how they propose to encourage people to use a public transportation system like this and how it will impact the environment.”

The format of the open-house-type meeting had visitors moving to different stations to study various pieces of information and proposed routes. ODOT staff were on hand to answer any questions concerning the posters that described the program. Forms were available for the public to make written suggestions.

Pearson said the line is being proposed to alleviate increased travel and freight demands expected in the future. Projections are that the state’s population will increase by 35 percent in the next 25 years and the freight load by 60 percent.

Representatives from the various communities impacted by the project have been appointed to Leadership, Corridor Forum and public advisory councils to make recommendations and work out corridor-wide issues she said.

Linn and Benton counties are represented in each of the groups.

For more information or to provide input online, visit www.oregonpassengerrail.org or contact Pearson at 503- 986-3313 or info@oregonpassengerrail.org.

Steve Lathrop is the business reporter for the Albany Democrat-Herald. He can be reached at 541-812-6076 or by email at steve.lathrop@lee.net.

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