SALEM — The Oregon Passenger Rail Leadership Council gave the thumbs-up to explore two alternatives for high-speed rail service between Portland and Eugene during a Tuesday meeting.

“This is a milestone of the project,” said Theresa Carr of CH2M Hill, a consultant for the state.

Albany is included in both options, as expected, but neither route goes through Corvallis.

State Rep. Sara Gelser of Corvallis said she would continue to work to improve transportation possibilities connections between Albany and Corvallis, including a spur rail line between the cities.

Albany Mayor Sharon Konopa said she was pleased with the result, as it protects the city’s status as a passenger rail site.

Both Konopa and Gelser are among the 20 members of the Leadership Council, which came to the consensus to start environmental impact studies on the options, both of which were recommended by Oregon Department of Transportation staff and consultants.

One of the high speed rail options follows an existing Union Pacific line, much of which is along Highway 99E. The other is a new rail corridor, much of which follows Interstate 5.

The new corridor would have maximum speeds of 110 mph, which would mean shorter travel times. It also would be more costly, at an estimated $1.3 billion to $1.6 billion between Albany and Eugene.

An alternative for the route mirroring Interstate 5 would be a new rail station closer to the new line.

Following the existing rail line would cost about $750 million to $900 million, with speeds of up to 79 mph.

Dollar figures for either option do not include maintenance costs, and no funding has been identified.

“We’re trying to get ourselves in a position so that if money becomes available, we can have it,” said Kitty Piercy, mayor of Eugene.

And that money could become available in phases, Leadership Council members said.

The evaluation phase of the project costs $10 million and is a combination of ODOT ($5.8 million) and federal ($4.2 million) funds.

Gary Gillespie of the Lane Transit District Board of Directors said the fastest way to increase ridership on the rails is to connect Corvallis to Albany.

And Gillespie caused a bit of an uproar when he said that Oregon State University tends to have more Oregonians than the University of Oregon.

“Let me clarify: I’m a Ducks fan,” Gillespie said. “My experience tends to be that there seems to be a larger population of Oregon students at Oregon State.”

“Keep digging,” quipped Piercy.

Kyle Odegard covers public safety for the Albany Democrat-Herald. He can be contacted at kyle.odegard@lee.net or 541-812-6077.

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