Gem Burke of Medford dodges traffic as he crosses Barnett Road near the bridge over Bear Creek. Greenway advocates want to build a pedestrian bridge over Barnett Road so pedestrians and cyclists won’t have to stop for traffic on the crowded street. - Bob Pennell

Bridge could span Barnett

The last link in the Ashland-to-Central Point greenway along Bear Creek will likely be a bridge over Barnett Road.

Bear Creek Greenway stakeholders have chosen a $2.3 million pedestrian and bicycle overpass to get the greenway path across busy Barnett Road, and the Medford City Council gave them the green light Thursday to design it.

Designers produced seven options for crossing Barnett. The bridge, which would cross Barnett at Highland Drive, was chosen by the Bear Creek Greenway committee and the Greenway Foundation, as well as the Oregon Department of Transportation, Jackson County and the Medford Parks and Recreation Department.

The other alternatives included putting the path under Barnett Road or crossing the street at different sites. Some were less expensive, but they all had fatal flaws such as extensive impacts on Bear Creek and its riparian vegetation.

The council needed to approve the bridge because it would be built on public right of way within the city. Jackson County has $700,000 earmarked for the greenway, and other funding options are being explored.

Highland Drive resident Gem Burke says he's seen the proposed bridge and likes it.

"That is a nasty road to go across," said Burke, who crosses the street a couple of times a week.

He said drivers really push to make the green light in that area, and even though the new interchange will help take some of the traffic away from Barnett, the greenway needs to bypass the busy street somehow.

Construction of the 21-mile greenway along Bear Creek between Oak Street in Ashland and the Seven Oaks Interchange in Central Point has been occurring in small chunks since 1973 and has picked up speed over the past decade.

The greenway comes into Medford from the south through the new U.S. Cellular Community Park. It will go under the freeway, following Bear Creek, and continue to Barnett south of the new extension of Highland Drive.

Without a bridge, pedestrians and cyclists would have to cross Barnett Road at Highland Drive and stop for traffic — the only stop along the entire path.

Medford Parks and Recreation Director Brian Sjothun said greenway supporters want to keep the greenway unimpeded for its full length.

"ODOT and Jackson County Parks have been working toward alternate solutions over the past two years," he said.

Sjothun said one funding option would be for the city of Medford to extend the length of time the south Medford interchange system development charge is in place. The charge is paid when someone gets a building permit for new construction in Medford.

Councilman Jason Anderson said he was hesitant to commit to the SDC charge extension at this time.

Public Works Director Cory Crebbin said he had several concerns about the bridge, which would be in the public right-of-way.

"Our major concern, of course, is who owns the bridge and takes care of it," he said. He said that if the intersection needed modifications, such as adding a turn lane to accommodate more vehicles, the bridge would have to be torn down and rebuilt.

Jeff Bernardo, of OBEC Consulting Engineers of Medford, who designed the options, said he could design a bridge that would anticipate future street expansions.

Karen Smith of Jackson County Roads, Parks and Planning Services, who has been managing the greenway project, said she wasn't looking for the council to identify funding.

"The question of how it's going to be paid for doesn't have to be answered right now," she said.

Smith said designing the bridge is the first step toward determining the exact costs for the project.

Reach reporter Meg Landers at 776-4481 or e-mail

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