Fern Valley interchange discussed

PHOENIX — City officials will hold a second public hearing at tonight's City Council meeting and likely could approve amendments to the city's municipal code to allow future management of land surrounding the Fern Valley interchange.

Because a large crowd is expected, the 6:30 p.m. meeting will be held in the Phoenix High School theater, 745 N. Rose St.

Slated to be rebuilt beginning in 2012, the $72 million project to rebuild the failing interchange has been a hot topic in recent years, with business owners and residents actively involved and state transportation officials delaying the project a handful of times to answer public concerns.

State transportation officials have said that approval of an interchange area management plan must come within the next few weeks or funding could be lost. In the meantime, citizens and property owners have continued to voice concerns over the project.

Last week, state transportation officials announced that one of two design alternatives for the project was no longer viable after state officials determined state land-use laws would not allow certain elements of the design dubbed "Fern Valley through."

Oregon Department of Transportation area manager Art Anderson said the design dubbed "North Phoenix through," which would utilize North Phoenix Road to reconfigure the failing interchange, can be completed without special land-use exceptions being sought.

Mayor Carlos DeBritto said this week that the project is long overdue and that city officials are eager to see the project move forward.

Former citizens advisory committee member Tani Wouters, a county planning commissioner, said the project, delayed and restarted multiple times in the past half-dozen years, may never truly "serve the best interests of the city of Phoenix."

Wouters voiced concerns this week about the second design being eliminated and about the area management plan putting too many restrictions on local businesses.

"The bottom line is that Medford needs an interchange, so Phoenix is building this for Medford," Wouters said.

"If people care, they need to be involved. This project means something to everybody that has an interest in Phoenix because it will affect the future development of Phoenix for years to come."

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at buffypollock@juno.com.

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