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A bicyclist passes under Fern Valley Bridge next to Bear Creek in Phoenix. The county is expected today to accept federal funds to replace the bridge as part of a major overhaul of the nearby freeway interchange. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch - Jamie Lusch

A STRONGER, SAFER BRIDGE

Jackson County is expected to kick off a $3.03 million project to rebuild the Fern Valley bridge over Bear Creek and the Greenway in Phoenix as part of the larger Fern Valley interchange replacement project.

The Board of Commissioners will vote today whether to authorize use of Federal Highway Bridge Program funds to pay for the project in full, according to a recommendation from County Administrator Danny Jordan.

The Bear Creek bridge will be rebuilt as part of a $73 million replacement of the Fern Valley interchange that connects Phoenix to Interstate 5. The project is headed by the Oregon Department of Transportation.

The county is expected to grant ODOT a six-month easement on two nearby tax lots to reroute Greenway pedestrian and bicycle traffic during construction. The bridge will be widened and bike lanes and sidewalks will be added.

ODOT spokesman Gary Leaming said traffic over the bridge will remain two-way, but the road will turn to one-way for westbound vehicles after passing Bolz Road. Eastbound travelers heading to Fern Valley Road will connect using Bolz Road.

"We're looking at just a minor widening of the roadway, so we're thinking it should go fairly quick," Leaming said of the road's nearby intersection with Highway 99, adding the bridge will remain open during construction. Correction: See below

County officials say replacing the bridge will increase its weight capacity and make it safer for motorists.

Jackson County Roads and Parks Department Director John Vial said engineers first discovered cracks in the bridge over the creek during a routine inspection in 2007. The county restricted loads to 40 tons because of the cracks, which means trucks with heavier loads heading to businesses along Highway 99 have to make their connection elsewhere.

"That load restriction is causing quite a few trucks to use other routes," Vial said.

Jackson County officials consulted with ODOT on adding the bridge to the Fern Valley interchange project.

"It makes sense to do it as part of the project," Leaming said.

The whole project goes to bid in April 2013, and ODOT officials anticipate construction will start in June. The project is expected to take more than two years to complete.

The commissioners will meet at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday in the Jackson County Courthouse Auditorium, 10 S. Oakdale Ave., Medford.

The stretch of road referred to in the quote has been corrected in this version.

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or by email at rpfeil@mailtribune.com.

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