One result of LTD’s public opinion survey on the proposed EmX extension to West 11th Avenue was about as surprising to the bus agency as spring rain in Eugene. Other responses were more informative.
The least surprising result to LTD, according to Director of Planning and Development Tom Schwetz, was that Eugeneans are split about 50-50 on whether they support or oppose the bus rapid transit extension. “What we were interested in was why,” Schwetz told EW.
The 16-minute survey of likely voters, conducted by Portland’s DHM Research, gathered opinions on important issues in Eugene, transportation project priorities and reasons to support or oppose the EmX extension.
Schwetz said that one of the most interesting results of the opinion survey was that some of the results directly contradicted lesser-known facts about the EmX, especially where cost and construction are concerned. “I think that a lot of the people who strongly oppose it don’t know a lot about the project,” he said.
When voters who opposed the project were asked about reasons to oppose the extension, 36 percent cited a waste of money or that it was too expensive.
“Too expensive in what way?” Schwetz asked. LTD received a $75 million Small Starts grant from the Federal Transit Administration specifically for the extension, and LTD expects matching funds from the state, as well. If LTD doesn’t use the grant money for the extension, it would go back to the FTA, to be used for a similar project in a different city.
Another perception that Schwetz said LTD needs to educate the public about is the impact of the construction on the West 11th corridor. Schwetz said that LTD was told that most of the work could be done at night, in five-block sections for two weeks each, limiting the interruptions to businesses and to traffic.
Schwetz said it’s important to take advantage of the opportunity to use the Small Starts grant money to plan ahead for an even higher population and greater need for transportation as even more multi-family housing fills in along the West 11th corridor. He said the EmX extension will offer “more efficient service in a congested corridor,” and if Eugene passes on the grant, “there is no doubt in my mind that it would get used in some other part of the country.”
“The preponderance of evidence says this is a good investment to make,” Schwetz said. “Let’s make this an evidence-based decision and look at it.”