Monstrous or magnificent, the descriptions of the Greenway pedestrian bridge over Barnett Road reveal a city divided over aesthetics.
At the intersection of Barnett and Highland, the $2 million, weathered steel structure has become an instant conversation piece.
"I don't walk the Greenway, but I go under that monster everyday," said Medford resident Lois Bailer. "My husband speaks about it all the time."
The 155-foot span, with two 300-foot approaches, is scheduled to open in September. Carter and Co., the contractors for the job, recently poured concrete for the approaches and bridge.
Richard Strahm, who was riding his bike along the Greenway Monday, objected to people vilifying a crossing that he said will prevent fatal accidents for cyclists and others at Barnett.
"Perhaps those people who think the bridge is ugly have never used the Greenway," the 56-year-old Medford resident said. "How beautiful it is."
He said the Greenway is one of the reasons he has called Medford home for the past 30 years.
Strahm said the bridge resembles the style of two other crossings over Bear Creek in Medford, but they haven't elicited the same objections he's heard about the new span.
Bailer, 72, who has lived in Medford for 25 years, said she doesn't discount the benefits of having a safe crossing over Barnett.
"The bridge is a great thing, but what they put up is ugly," she said.
Bailer's husband has been visiting relatives recently, but she said she is sure the bridge is still on his mind.
"As soon as he gets back, that will be the first thing out of his mouth — the bridge," she said.
Funding for the bridge comes from $1 million in federal stimulus dollars and $100,000 from the Bear Creek Greenway Foundation. The remainder will come from federal money for projects that help improve air quality.
Another cyclist, Melissa Conway, said the bridge reminds her of the improvements that have enhanced Bend in recent years.
"I almost don't mind the way it looks," said the 42-year-old Medford resident.
Her 41-year-old husband, Greg, said, "It's a little bit big."
However, he said it will be a welcome addition to the busy intersection.
Seattle resident Betty Heyden said she didn't care about the style of the bridge, suggesting that it be painted. Otherwise, the 63-year-old thought it would be a good addition to Medford.
"I think when it's done it will be great," she said.
Her husband, Larry Heyden, said he wondered why the bridge was so big initially, but realized that it needs to provide enough room for people to cross in both directions.
Lee Mills, president of the Bear Creek Greenway Foundation, said he's heard both praise and complaints about the design.
"I think if money were no object, we would love to have a bridge like they have in Redding," said Mills, referring to the Sundial Bridge that spans the Sacramento River.
The design was driven by functionality, he said. The city looked into painting it, but that idea would have increased the ongoing maintenance costs. Graffiti is easier to remove from the finish, as well, he said.
Mills said that when he looks at the bridge, he sees not only the final link in the 21-mile-long Greenway, but a safe connection over Barnett that he hopes will encourage more cycling.
"I think we will come to realize that every cyclist that goes over that bridge means less (oil) dollars to Hugo Chavez," Mills said. Chavez is the Venezuelan president who has been sharply critical of the U.S. and commands a significant amount of the world's oil.
Mills said the look of the bridge could change somewhat because the Medford Arts Commission is raising money to adorn it with artwork.
Nancy Jo Mullen, president of the arts commission, said a number of artists have been selected, and $20,000 has been set aside to create some sort of art on the structure.
"We'd like to do something interesting," she said.
The arts commission hopes local benefactors come forward to at least match the $20,000.
Some of the ideas being considered include interactive art or special lighting to enhance the bridge at night.
As to the aesthetic of the structure, she said, "It is what it is. It is a prefab bridge."
She said people don't understand its width is intended to accommodate emergency vehicles and the height is for safety reasons, she said.
When people complain that the bridge is ugly, Mullen said she often responds, "You guys are getting to be too old if you think that way."
Once the bridge is completed and the approaches are finished, Mullen anticipates it will grow on people.
"I think it's there to stay," she said.
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.