Medford explores Hwy. 62 bridge

Medford — City Council members Thursday decided a bridge would make more sense than a signal to help route traffic onto a proposed Highway 62 bypass, but worried how the $100 million project might disrupt businesses along the busy thoroughfare.

The project still is mostly conceptual, and some council members expressed frustration about endorsing it before they know how businesses in possible work areas might be affected.

"I have a difficult time providing you with a direction unless I have all the information," Councilman Chris Corcoran said.

Despite initial reservations, council members agreed to explore building a bridge, located to the west of Whittle Avenue, that would accommodate vehicles driving toward Interstate 5 on Highway 62. Motorists traveling away from the freeway would have the option to drive under the bridge to reach the bypass, which roughly would follow the old Medco Haul Road.

Tim Fletcher, project manager for the Oregon Department of Transportation, said the Butler Truck Center, which has moved, no longer is located on Highway 62. The property where the truck center was located would become a major part of the bypass access and is located on land now owned by the county.

Drivers travelling toward Medford on Highway 62 no longer would be able to make left turns into businesses such as Hubbard's Hardware, Guitar Center or Abby's Legendary Pizza, and there would be restrictions on right turns. Those businesses are located in the area where traffic would merge left to get onto the bypass.

A transportation advisory team will take the City Council's recommendation into consideration when it considers which option to pursue.

Oregon Department of Transportation officials think the bridge idea would cause fewer problems for businesses than a traffic signal, although it would add about $10 million to the project cost. As a result, transportation officials likely would be looking at a signal rather than another bridge near White City to control traffic getting on to the bypass to stay within the $100 million budget.

In addition, a bridge in Medford would help route more traffic onto the bypass than a signal and also cause less congestion, transportation officials have determined.

The bypass would extend from about Whittle Avenue, past Vilas Road and end near White City, creating a two-lane, 55 mph road with no on- or off-ramps over its 3.5 mile length. If built, ODOT estimates a quarter of the traffic on Highway 62 would use the bypass.

Bob Seus, owner of Hubbard's Hardware, said he and other business owners are concerned about a project that is difficult to pin down because it appears to be constantly evolving.

"No matter what, there is going to be an impact," he said. "Are we going to get slammed? I don't know yet."

Seus said motorists traveling toward the freeway on Highway 62 do turn left to reach Hubbard's, but he said that isn't the best option.

"It's probably not the safest turn lane," he said. "We've seen the wrecks out there."

A safer alternative would be to turn left on Delta Waters, right on Crater Lake Ave., then left on Skypark Drive, but Seus acknowledged that many motorists prefer to take the more direct route.

Despite his concerns, Seus said something needs to be done to alleviate congestion on Highway 62. Whatever plan ultimately is approved, business owners will be attending transportation meetings to make sure their voices are heard, he said.

"We're going to be diligent about what's going to happen out there," Seus said.

ODOT also is looking at creating a wide shoulder for bikes on the bypass, or possibly salvaging a paved portion of the Old Medco Haul Road that would provide a better separation between the highway and the bike path.

Fletcher said one possibility being considered is to build a bridge over the bypass area to give better access to the path.

Transportation officials also will explore encouraging other forms of transit on the bypass, such as improving bus access.

To qualify for the $100 million in state money, the project must begin by 2013.

Fletcher said ODOT would continue to meet with businesses and city officials as plans are developed for a project designed to ease congestion through Medford.

"We don't have all the answers yet, but we're listening to all the concerns," he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476, or e-mail

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