A bicyclist crosses Barnett Road near Highland Drive Saturday. Mail Tribune Photo / Jamie Lusch - Jamie Lusch

Over before it's over?

An organization that has been one of the driving forces behind the Bear Creek Greenway will not declare the trail finished until it sees a safe passage at Barnett Road in Medford.

Earlier in the year, government officials wanted to mark the completion of the 18-mile pedestrian and cycling path from Ashland to Central Point after 30 years of struggles, setbacks and successes.

"We said, 'Thanks, but no thanks,' " said Joy Olson, a member of the Bear Creek Greenway Foundation board. "Until this connection is a safe connection, we just don't feel a celebration was in order."

She said the entire trail has been completed except for an unimpeded crossing at busy Barnett, where pedestrians and cyclists must use the crosswalks at the intersection.

The foundation had worked with Jackson County as the lead agency for years to complete the trail, but the county has decided to turn over the Barnett crossing issue to the city of Medford.

"We kind of feel like an orphan," said Olson.

She said the foundation thought everything was on track to build the estimated $2.3-million bridge over Barnett during construction of the south Medford interchange.

City Councilman Al Densmore, former president of the greenway foundation, said that unlike some members of the foundation, he believes there is good cause for celebration of the greenway's near-completion.

"We have a difference of opinion," he said.

He said that a celebration of a trail linking five communities could also highlight the safety issue that remains in getting a better connection over Barnett.

John Vial, Jackson County Roads and Parks director, said the county is transferring $700,000 devoted to the crossing over to the city as it hands over the reins for this project.

"The city's the lead on that now," he said. "The city is in the best position to make those calls."

The city wants to continue looking at building a connection under the Barnett bridge, even though a consulting firm earlier determined that wasn't the most feasible idea.

Gary Leaming, spokesman for ODOT, said the agency considers the intersection crossing at Barnett safe, but he concedes it may not be an ideal connector for some greenway supporters.

At this late stage, he said, building an under-crossing at the new Barnett bridge would not be part of the south Medford interchange project.

"The pieces aren't in place for it to be accomplished," he said.

Leaming said it might be possible for the city of Medford to build it at a later time, though.

Corey Crebbin, Medford public works director, said the city wants to receive more information before it will rule out going under the Barnett bridge.

"Based on the level of work done to this point, we're not convinced," he said.

The city wants to collect more information to augment a study prepared by OBEC, an engineering consulting firm with offices throughout Oregon. The report found that the least problematic crossing for the greenway would be a bridge over Barnett.

Greenway supporters have long discussed an under-crossing, which is a common way of avoiding roadways along the greenway.

"We don't think there is any question the greenway under-crossing is the preferred experience," said Crebbin.

He said the design of the bridge would require a berm on the dog-park side of Barnett that would essentially cut off the park area from Highland. A bridge would also make it difficult to make improvements to the intersection at Barnett and Highland in the future, he said.

Whatever option is picked, Crebbin said, it will be an expensive undertaking and all the funding hasn't been lined up yet.

Crebbin expects city staff to have a recommendation in the next few weeks on which alternative is preferred.

Lee Mills, president of the greenway foundation, said there are many problems with the city's idea of running the greenway trail under the new Barnett bridge.

Because the trail would have to be built about 10 feet below the bridge, it would be under water for periods of time when the creek rises, he said.

There would be environmental hurdles to clear as well, because the trail would require retaining walls that could impede stream flow and create environmental problems. In addition, retaining walls would have to be built for the approaches under the bridge, and rights of way would have to be procured, he said.

Given these problems, Mills said, "There is a question about whether it can even be done."

The pedestrian bridge would be built at the southwest corner of Barnett and Highland Drive and go over the roadway into the dog park. The bridge would not present the environmental and other problems posed by the under-crossing, he said.

"That's why the bridge is the most elegant solution because you know all the issues," said Mills.

A safe crossing over Barnett is important because it is one of the busiest roads in the county, he said.

"If you have a bunch of walkers and cyclists crossing the street at grade, you're going to have an injury at some time," said Mills.

Olson, who is involved also with the Rogue River Greenway, said the trail will one day connect Ashland to Grants Pass.

"When this whole 50-mile greenway is done down the road, I hope people are not going to be coming to a stop light at Barnett," she said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or

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