June 12, 2024

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Found during fact check: What Rob Zako said about MovingAhead in 2022

4 min read
Rob Zako (March 16, 2022): "We're not looking for thanks, but we just want to provide context. Monday night, Eugene City Council voted six to one in favor of MovingAhead... Compare that to 10 years ago when the West Eugene EmX was incredibly controversial and it was by no means a certainty that that would pass. The difference between then and now I would have to say is BEST and our partners. We worked really hard in the last few months to bring partners together, to find a middle ground, a middle road, to agree with your staff of how to move forward. So if this feels like no drama, perhaps that's partly why."

by John Quetzalcoatl Murray

Here at KEPW 97.3 Whole Community News, we have a regular feature that we call “Found During Fact Check.” We do our best to check all the facts before sharing a story, and we often come across newsworthy footnotes. In reporting on LTD’s decision this week to cancel plans for EmX buses on River Road, we originally planned to share the following comments from the executive director of the local nonprofit Better Eugene Springfield Transportation (BEST). Speaking March 26:

Rob Zako (BEST, March 26, 2024): Five years ago, just before the pandemic, there was a public hearing, the last public hearing on MovingAhead, and at that time, BEST and our partners concluded that EmX was probably not the most appropriate choice for River Road. And so it’s good to see, sort of, catching up to that view. It’s appropriate in some places. We didn’t see the ridership. We didn’t see the density there, the costs sort of didn’t pan out. But we did support Enhanced Corridor and ‘Enhanced Corridor Plus.’

[00:01:00] I want to emphasize that there is a need for better transit of some sort along River Road and look forward to having conversations around that.

[00:01:08] The other thing I’ll say (and we’ll follow up) is that BEST has been doing outreach along River Road, asking I think some of the same questions you and the city of Eugene have been asking. And we’ll follow up with you and share information around that.

[00:01:20] John Q: What Rob may have forgotten was that he and BEST changed their position on River Road EmX at the last moment. In public comment just before the LTD board vote on March 16, 2022:

[00:01:33] Rob Zako (BEST, March 16, 2022): I’m Rob Zako, of course, I’m executive director of Better Eugene-Springfield Transportation. I want to speak of course, about MovingAhead, and have three things to say.

[00:01:41] First: BEST and our partners urge you to adopt the staff recommendations on MovingAhead. You saw the guest viewpoint that Alexis Biddle and Brittany Quick-Warner published in the Register -Guard. We share with you more detailed comments with our updated analysis. I won’t go over that in detail.

[00:01:57] I’ll just say that over two years ago, BEST and partners undertook a detailed analysis of MovingAhead. We submitted 20 pages of testimony sharing our thoughts on that. In brief, our conclusion at that time was to support what we called ‘Enhanced Corridor Plus.’

[00:02:13] Fast-forward to today, two and a half years later, a pandemic later, a war later, other things, and we’ve tweaked our recommendations. I would say that ‘Plus’ now includes EmX on River Road. But we’ve been fairly consistent in our support for improvements in these corridors. And we urge you to support those from your staff. Thank you for that.

[00:02:31] Second: I want to thank your project team, your staff very much. This has been a long endeavor. I believe MovingAhead has been going on for seven years. BEST has been involved in all that time, but you’ve seen your staff come and go. Board members come and go. It’s been a long haul. There are a lot of technical details. You’ve got a great staff and we appreciate all the technical and engineering work they’ve done to get us to where we are. So thank you to your staff.

[00:02:55] Lastly, and we’re not looking for thanks, but we just want to provide context. Monday night, Eugene City Council voted six to one in favor of MovingAhead. City Councilor Greg Evans would have voted in favor, but he had Zoom problems. And I think the mayor probably would have. Compare that to 10 years ago when the West Eugene EmX was incredibly controversial and it was by no means a certainty that that would pass.

[00:03:18] The difference between then and now I would have to say is BEST and our partners. We worked really hard in the last few months to bring partners together, to find the middle ground, middle road, to agree with your staff of how to move forward. So if this feels like no drama perhaps that’s partly why.

[00:03:37] And lastly, I’d just like to say, because there’s no doubt of the vote (I don’t think), this may seem anticlimactic, but MovingAhead is a really, really big deal. We’re not talking about just one corridor. We’re talking about four, with the possibility of a fifth later on. We really should celebrate all the work that has gotten us to this point, and look forward to a better future, MovingAhead.

[00:03:57] John Q: That’s Rob Zako on March 16, 2022, taking credit for the lack of drama around approval of EmX on River Road. He could not foresee that there would soon be a great deal of drama, which would result in the historic first recall ever of a Eugene city councilor. (And in fairness to our good friend Rob, whose comments mentioned guest editorials in the Register-Guard, this all took place so long ago, the R-G still had an op-ed page.)

For the record: BEST actually supported EmX for River Road. As you heard, BEST also took credit for the wide margins when the city and LTD approved MovingAhead— found during fact check.

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