We’ve seen encouraging signs lately that a mid-valley regional strategy might be picking up steam on a proposed high-speed railroad line between Eugene and Portland.

You might be thinking, well, that’s good, but it’s a little late, considering that a potentially important decision on the project is due in a couple of weeks. But considering the lengthy time frame for this project – a time span that will be measured in decades – we think there is plenty of time for the mid-valley to find a united front.

The Oregon Department of Transportation is studying options for improved passenger-train service between the Columbia River and the Eugene-Springfield area. One of the key ideas behind the project, which has been in the planning stages for years, is to ensure that the trip can be made via rail in about the same time (less, if possible) than it can be driven.

Much of the recent discussion about the project has centered on four proposed routes. At a Dec. 17 meeting, the Oregon Passenger Rail Leadership Council – a group made up mostly of public officials, including Albany Mayor Sharon Konopa – is scheduled to make recommendations about which alternatives merit additional study.

A draft environmental impact statement on the preferred alternatives is due in about a year’s time. An additional round of public hearings would follow, perhaps in January 2015. A final decision could follow those hearings.

But any of the alternatives would be hugely expensive to build – so there’s no guarantee that the line will ever be constructed.

And even though it seems logical, there isn’t a guarantee that the high-speed railroad would stop anywhere between Eugene and Portland – mainly because each stop adds time to the trip.

But a regional approach – one endorsed by leaders in both Linn and Benton counties – could help ensure that mid-valley travelers will be well-served by the line.

For example, state Rep. Sara Gelser, a member of the Rail Leadership Council, has floated the idea of a spur line that could run east and west and could connect with the high-speed line at another location, possibly the Albany station.

A welcome sign of collaboration came with the news that the rail line will be a topic at a joint meeting, scheduled for next week, of the metropolitan planning organizations for Corvallis and Albany. These organizations focus on long-range transportation issues, so a joint meeting provides an excellent opportunity to ponder regional options.

The Dec. 17 meeting could well be an important milepost for the high-speed rail project. But it has many more miles to travel. The discussions now underway could help ensure that no one from the mid-valley gets stranded along the way. (mm)

Mike McInally is the editor of the Democrat-Herald. He can be reached at 541-812-6097 or mike.mcinally@lee.net

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