Even though a state advisory board has decided that a proposed high-speed passenger rail likely will bypass Corvallis, there’s still plenty to talk about on the topic — and so Monday’s meeting of the Corvallis City Club rushed right in.
The Oregon Department of Transportation is studying options for improved passenger rail service between Eugene-Springfield and Portland — a 125-mile segment. The idea is to transport rail passengers in about the same time (less if possible) that it takes to drive the route.
Last month, the state board narrowed to two the possible routes such a line could take, and neither included a stop in Corvallis. However, any project is still years — if not decades — away, and so those who attended Monday’s meeting still had plenty of questions about the project.
For example: Is it possible that a spur line from Albany could connect the new trains with Corvallis? Yes, but improved bus service is a far more likely alternative.
Is the depot in Albany big enough to handle the additional trips that the new service would provide? No, but officials should have plenty of time to address that, given how long it might take to get the new service on line.
And it’s the time factor that was the biggest concern of one of the panelists, Benton County Commissioner Linda Modrell.
Modrell, a longtime advocate of rail travel, called for more forward thinking on the part of state officials, suggesting that choosing the most direct route in 2014 might not be the best way to serve the mid-valley down the road.
Modrell also called for a broader approach than just trying to establish the quickest way to get from Portland to Eugene. Modrell suggested looking at east-west lines as well to serve the entire mid-valley.
Jim Cox of the Oregon Department of Transportation was the other panelist. He noted that there will be 35 percent more people in the Willamette Valley in the next 20 years.
That said, he offered no timetable for completion of the high-speed rail project because the federal funding and required state match are years away.
Challenges the state will face in moving the project forward include environmental reviews and making a decision on whether to produce a completely new line of track or work with Union Pacific.
Cox said that laying new track from Eugene to Albany would cost $1.6 billion, and $320 million of that total would have to come from the state.
Collaborating with Union Pacific (UP) would mean being able to tackle the project in increments and sharing the track would mean sharing the operational costs.
“We pay Amtrak to operate our trains,” Cox said. “And some of that goes to UP. If we build a line we become railroad owners and all of the costs would be ours.”
At its Feb. 10 meeting, the City Club will explore another transportation-related issue: parking in Corvallis and around Oregon State University.