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Eagle Point needs public transportation

For the first time in 40 years Eagle Point voters will decide whether or not we join the Rogue Valley Transportation District. When RVTD began service in 1977 it had just three buses. Now it has a fleet of 20 buses serving 1.4 million passengers last year. Forty years ago, our Eagle Point population was under 2,500. Today we are the fastest growing city in Southern Oregon and our population is over 8,500. We are also the largest city in the region without public transit. The City of Eagle Point is an active presence region-wide, but without public transit we are not on a level playing field.

The question as to whether we join RVTD deserves more than an immediate “no new taxes” response. Consider that on average, the federal government spends $30 per capita to support public transit in Oregon. Over 60 percent of the $7 million dollar RVTD budget comes in the form of federal and state grants. Eagle Point residents already pay for bus service — elsewhere. The $90,000 in Eagle Point property taxes will be matched by $160,000 from RVTD. This amount almost doubles our local contribution. Joining RVTD brings tax dollars otherwise lost back to Eagle Point in the form of public transit.

Continuing education in today’s world is crucial when it comes to making a living wage. Students from Eagle Point and White City sit in the same classrooms, are on the same football team and graduate together. However the current RVTD boundary lies at White City. Attending Rogue Valley Community College full-time can add up to over $4,000 annually for tuition and books. As part of RVTD, with a student bus pass, for the same price as one tank of gas, a student can save $1,000 a year — if they live in White City. Eagle Point graduates cannot take advantage of this cost saving opportunity, assuming they even have a car. We can ensure transportation costs, or the lack of a vehicle, are not barriers to our students, regardless of their age, by joining RVTD.

The lack of public transit is a lost economic opportunity for Eagle Point. As a “bedroom community” more than 95 percent of our working residents now commute to a job outside the city. Automobile transportation is virtually essential given our limited local employment opportunities. Joining RVTD opens up the entire regional job market for anyone in Eagle Point who lacks affordable transportation.

Within the RVTD district over 70 percent of all jobs are within one-quarter mile of a fixed bus route. Transportation costs are second only to housing costs for most families. Public transit is an option for anyone wishing to reduce household expenses. Public transit will help local business by keeping and bringing spendable income to Eagle Point.

Many seniors in Eagle Point need support in order to remain independent and in their homes. Last year, Food for Friends delivered 9,224 meals to the doorsteps of seniors in our community. This summer the Upper Rogue Community Center discontinued its transportation service for seniors and the disabled in our area. The service provided over 6,000 rides a year. If we join RVTD, Valley Lift will provide curb-to-curb transportation to qualifying individuals who cannot ride the bus and live within three-quarters of a mile of a bus route. RVTD Valley Lift will provide an essential lifeline service to those who need and deserve our support.

In the past 40 years, Eagle Point has grown up. We have grown up without losing our small-town identity or our small-town spirit. We have grown up to the point where our population makes public transit a viable, practical option. Public transit fosters dynamic, connected communities and continued education for our children. It brings income and services into the community. It can benefit everyone while helping those who need it most. It is what a community is all about.

 Bob Russell is the mayor of Eagle Point.