EmX Service Begins in West Eugene

Nov. 29, 2017
In all, the EmX West project took almost 10 years from conception to construction and added nearly nine round-trip miles to the EmX route and 40 percent more service to LTD’s system.

As she navigates her bicycle through town to work, Vicki Morgan reminds herself that only a few months ago her daily commute to her job at the public library was much more challenging. That’s because cycling was the only way she could commute in a timely, flexible manner. Until now.

Morgan is excited that Lane Transit District (LTD) in Eugene, Oregon, has added a new segment of its bus rapid transit service, EmX (Emerald Express) in her neighborhood in west Eugene. If she chooses to take EmX to work rather than her bike, her commute will allow her to leave her car at home and still get to work in a timely fashion, given the frequency of the 10-minute, one-seat service that launched on September 17.

“I’ve always believed in alternative ways to commute to work and actually, I ride my bicycle most days because I believe that it is better for my health and the health of the planet,” said Morgan. “Having EmX in my neighborhood gives me additional, convenient options that will still allow me to get to work without driving a car.”

LTD invested in BRT in 2007 with the beginning of the first line along Franklin Boulevard along a route that connected the city of Springfield with the University of Oregon and into downtown Eugene. In 2010, LTD expanded the EmX into Springfield down to the new Riverbend Hospital and connecting to the Gateway Mall. EmX is responsible for carrying one fourth of LTD’s passengers daily.

The western part of Eugene has been a bit slower to develop economically than the rest of the city because it is home to mostly rural, commercial and industrial property; heavy with businesses that utilize large warehouse space and manufacturing. Many of the neighborhoods developed out of a necessity for affordable housing and some of the neighborhoods are considered economically disadvantaged.

Many of the people that live in the most immediate western neighborhood to downtown Eugene live below the poverty line (30 percent) and more than 26 percent of residents in this neighborhood do not own cars. The neighborhoods just a bit farther west contain high percentages of people of color, lower incomes and people with disabilities.

Long-range planners for the city found that in spite of being in the midst of an economic downturn, west Eugene’s population was continuing to grow and traffic was becoming a congestive nightmare. It became obvious to local leaders that this area was in dire need of better public transportation.

The city of Eugene and LTD embarked on the corridor extension in 2011, after the Oregon Department of Transportation, (ODOT) determined that the most western portions of West 11th Avenue and along 6th and 7th Avenues were significant traffic chokepoints, causing unsafe and inefficient commutes. This would be the biggest public works project in the city in 10 years and would add infrastructure upgrades that benefit all modalities of travel, not just public transportation.

Utilizing the Federal Transit Administration's Small Starts program, LTD was able to leverage funding and start developing the new corridor. The overall cost of the project was $100 million with $75 million coming from the Small Starts program.

EmX West Funding Sources

  • Federal Small Starts - $75 million
  • Oregon Lottery Bonds - $17.8 million
  • ConnectOregon Grants - $1.6 million
  • Federal Formula Funds - $2 million
  • Local Funds - $3.4 million

Challenges would inevitably come up, so to address these, LTD conducted a robust public engagement process that aimed to reach as many people as possible. The LTD outreach team went door to door and personally connected with more than 600 businesses and residential homes in order to keep the neighborhood engaged in the process.

Through this engagement process, LTD listened and made adjustments to the design plans. In some cases, designs were reconfigured to accommodate business access. In other cases, work schedules were adjusted to make sure that there were no disruptions during business hours. LTD’s outreach team was on hand to mitigate issues and find solutions, even if it meant that LTD would have to take on extra work or costs to reduce impacts.

While the focus of the project was to add a new EmX corridor to LTD’s transit system, the community reaped many infrastructure benefits not related to the bus route. LTD and the city of Eugene put in three bicycle-pedestrian bridges connecting the south side of the Amazon Creek, which is primarily residential, to West 11th boulevard, allowing people the ability to connect with grocery stores, medical offices, banks and other businesses vital to daily life.

Other beneficial upgrades were added, such as six miles of roadway improvements, two signalized pedestrian crosswalks, 34 improved traffic signals, 187 ADA-compliant corners and ramps, 35 water filtration planters, 200 additional trees and five miles of new or rebuilt sidewalks — the largest sidewalk project in the history of Eugene. Additionally, 63 local businesses were engaged to design and construct this project, keeping local dollars and jobs in Eugene.

In addition to practical improvements, the leaders at LTD felt it was important to make the 26 EmX stations attractive to the public, so they made sure that art factored into the project. Eight local artists incorporated their work into the design of the stations, whether it was metal-fabricated railings depicting local life in Eugene, or cheery ceramic tiles offering a greeting to passengers or poetry inscribed on the boxes that houses the electrical components powering the stations — each of these pieces allow the entire community to be exposed to art without having to go to a gallery or a museum.

In all, the project took almost 10 years from conception to construction and added nearly nine round-trip miles to the EmX route and 40 percent more service to LTD’s system. The new corridor links 52,000 residents with more than 80,000 jobs within a half-mile of the route and makes west Eugene more accessible for the entire community.

More than just better bus service, the community has gained beautiful public art and improved mobility and accessibility.