Willamette Street reconstruction worries

EUGENE, Ore. - Amid proposals to change the busy stretch of Willmaette Street in south Eugene from four lanes to two, Eugene Fire Department and Lane Transit District said they hope to keep it the same.

City planners narrowed down the number of options for South Willamette Street reconstruction to three viable choices.

The agencies fear the other options that would cut traffic down to two lanes could create safety issues and more congestion in the area.

"We wanted to give the city what our preferences would be, and so we looked at different options. The four lane option really met our needs from a transit perspective," LTD Director Andy Voroba said.

Voroba said he's most concerned about the safety of bus riders, as well as the safety of pedestrians and cyclists around the buses.

The four lane option allows the buses to maintain priority of the lane. That allows cars to go around the bus, making it safer for LTD drivers to pull out.

Chris Henry, Eugene's Transportation Planning Engineer says the changes still give priority to busses and emergency vehicles while making south Eugene more accesible for all forms of transportation.

"The goal of this study is to have Willamette Street become a vibrant, urban corridor accesable to bicycle, foot, car, and bus," Henry said.

Fire officials are concerned about emergency response times and drivers' response to emergency vehicles.

In a four lane structure, cars would naturally move right. In the proposed scenarios, emergency officials said cars might be more hesistant to veer into a bike lane, ultimately slowing down responses.

Alternative One keeps the structure of the street the same, having four lanes.

Alternative Three adds a bike lane and center turn lane, but only has one lane of traffic in each direction.

Alternative Five widens the sidewalk, keeps the center turn lane, but dissolves the bike lane.

Henry says Alternative Three is a good option for everyone: adding a bike lane, turn lane, and reparing the sidewalks. Emergency vehicles and buses can use the center divide and bike lanes.

But as Henry puts it, not everyone can win.

"Looking back and balancing all the interests, we feel that there can be some compromise between alternative one and alternative three that would work for first responders," said Henry.

The project affects Willamette Street between 24th and 29th avenues. Henry says to expect some decision sometime in the late fall.