Plans to develop a high-speed railroad run between Eugene and Portland made news in the mid-valley last week, and a couple of points stood out:

First, with a 20-year timeline for the project, and so many variables still to be firmed up, it’s likely that we have plenty of time to work out the issues that surfaced last week.

Second, and possibly more important, this project may offer an excellent opportunity for mid-valley communities to work together to present a united front to the Oregon Department of Transportation and the other agencies involved.

ODOT is studying options for improved passenger-train service between the Columbia River and the Eugene-Springfield area. If you look at the materials the agency has prepared on the project, it’s clear that one of the key ideas is to ensure that the trip can be made via rail in about the same time — less, if possible — than you can drive it.

Depending on how fast you drive, that works out to somewhere between 100 and 120 minutes, although it is true that I drive slower than I used to. Perhaps we’ll come back to that topic another time.

In any event, residents of Corvallis rallied last week before the City Council to make the case that the train should make a stop in Corvallis. And, in fact, this is among the four options ODOT is considering for the route.

However, even advocates of the Corvallis stop agreed it’s a long shot — and one glance at a map will show you why. Let me be even blunter: It’s not going to happen. A proposed route along Interstate 5 is far more likely to get the green light.

But Corvallis’ loss doesn’t necessarily translate to a win for Albany — or, for that matter, any other community in the mid-valley. (In fact, representatives of smaller mid-valley communities complained last week, with some justification, that they’ve been left out of the planning process — although the project’s long timeline would appear to offer plenty of opportunities to be sure that everyone has a place at the table.)

Every additional stop in the mid-valley will make it more difficult for the route to operate in that 100-minute timetable. And who could really blame ODOT officials if they decided to just wave at the mid-valley as the train whips through instead of sorting through a bitter battle between communities?

Here’s where a united front would come in handy: Corvallis and Albany, for example, each have separate metropolitan planning organizations, charged with grappling with long-term transportation issues. This rail project would appear to be an excellent opportunity for regional collaboration — and such collaboration would almost certainly assure a more receptive audience among ODOT officials.

Such a process might also give additional voice to smaller communities, concerned at the prospect of high-speed trains racing through their towns at speeds of about 100 mph a couple of times each day.

It’s clear that no community in Linn or Benton county is going to get everything it wants from this rail line. But investing in a joint approach now could reap a handsome investment somewhere down the line. (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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