Ease the pain of bridge closure

If construction along Medford's Barnett Road near the new freeway interchange has been an irritant for months now, just wait till early 2009, when the bridge over Bear Creek closes for half a year.

Yes, that bridge: the one that connects Barnett and much of east Medford with the west side of town.

Although Medford's new interchange off of Barnett will open before the bridge is closed for reconstruction, state transportation officials promise, the work still will disrupt thousands of trips daily. After Highway 62, if it counts, Barnett is the city's busiest street. More than 35,000 cars cross the bridge every day.

We aren't going to suggest keeping part of the bridge open during the project, as some have. Managers predict that would double the length of the work to a year — and still be difficult to pull off because parts of the new bridge surface will be about 6 feet higher than the old.

What we will suggest is that Medford's leaders look for other ways to ease the pain for anyone likely to be affected.

Can they offer people who drive the road information about the fastest routes around the project? Can they send letters to neighbors in the area, alerting them to the project's length and scope?

Can they provide businesses nearby a guide to help customers get from point A to point B efficiently? What about including maps to the restaurants and hotels near the bridge in a monthly newsletter that goes to all residents? Can they add road signs that help put traffic where it should be?

One city official quoted in a recent story on the project seemed to think most drivers would use the new interchange rather than neighborhood streets to move between east and west while the bridge is closed.

That loop to the south will work well if you're staying on the south side of Medford but not so well if you're in, say, the Rogue Valley Manor neighborhood and heading downtown or downtown and trying to get to an appointment at Rogue Valley Medical Center.

It's not a mistake to rebuild the bridge, which is full of cracks, or even to close it to make the project work.

The mistake here would be in pretending nothing's different when this is possibly the biggest disruption and change to local traffic the city's ever seen. Medford ought to look out for residents and businesses — before the "bridge closed" signs go up.

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