Since You Asked: Del Rio Road work turns into big project

I drive north on Interstate 5 a lot and have been particularly struck by the massive interchange work going on at the Winchester exit, just north of Roseburg.

In all my years of driving the freeway I can't remember ever seeing more than one car getting on or off at that exit at any one time. So why is ODOT building an enormous interchange there that rivals the south Medford interchange in size?

What is that project costing (it's got to be tens of millions), and what's the justification for doing that much work at a rural interchange?

— Lewis H., Medford

Members of the Since You Asked Road Show Team have seen that work, as well, Lewis, and they agree with you that it's pretty darn big.

It's a different kind of big than the south Medford interchange — not nearly as much concrete, but there is definitely a whole lotta dirt being moved.

On its website (www.oregon.gov/ODOT/HWY/REGION3/delrio.shtml), the Oregon Department of Transportation says the primary goal of the $22 million project was to replace the Del Rio Road bridge over Interstate 5 at Exit 129.

But that work prompted them to make other improvements, including lengthening and straightening the four ramps and realigning Del Rio Road so it leads directly into Umpqua College Road.

Construction is scheduled to continue to September 2012.

The bridge, built in 1955, is cracking and needs to be replaced. The new bridge will be expanded from two lanes to five lanes of traffic, including three turn lanes.

Beyond that, the entire bridge and road will be moved about a quarter of a mile to the north and the portion of the road running west from I-5 will go through an area that was formerly a mill yard. What appears on an ODOT map to be about a mile-long stretch of the current Del Rio Road will be closed and replaced by the new road. Highway 99 on the east side of the freeway also will be moved to make room for the new on and off ramps.

Traffic signals, sidewalks and bike lanes will be added.

As for justifying the project, well, as you point out, Lewis, the interchange does not serve a major, or even minor, metropolis. But it does handle a lot of traffic from nearby Umpqua Community College, which has 3,000 full-time students and about 15,000 students in a year. Dan Latham, a spokesman for ODOT, says the college traffic frequently results in mile-long backups and delays of 20 to 30 minutes. There are also a considerable number of homes in the Winchester area and several businesses.

Beyond that, the current on and off ramps are short and twisting, which can make exiting and entering I-5 a bit of a challenge. So, in the end, the work may be less about traffic numbers and more about safety for those who use it.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@mailtribune.com. We're sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.

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