As our Bear Creek Greenway nears completion, one significant issue threatens the integrity of this beautiful, 20-mile non-motorized trail. The issue affects both user safety and long-term viability of the Greenway. The issue is "safe passage" at Medford's new Barnett Road I-5 interchange.
Eighteen months ago it came to our attention that plans for the final connection of the Greenway at the South Medford interchange called for a traffic signal and a crosswalk at Highland Avenue, creating the need to cross the excessively busy Barnett Road. We promptly sought safer alternatives.
Recently, one preferred alternative option was identified from seven options that were presented by OBEC engineering. A bike/pedestrian bridge over Barnett at Highland is that option. Now, time and money are absolutely critical due to: 1) The huge cost of the bridge over-crossing, an additional $2 million dollars to our initial Greenway investment of $2 million for the Barnett work, 2) getting the required permission from federal highway officials to include the over-crossing in the current interchange plan, (a big cost savings) and 3) doing a preliminary engineering plan for federal officials to review. Add to all this the fact that the South Medford interchange is moving along quickly.
We have an opportunity and obligation to do this right! The compelling reasons that fuel our passion for "safe passage" at Barnett are as follows:
- The Greenway connects five Southern Oregon communities. Hundreds use the Greenway daily and many are children and young people as well as seniors. Users also include commuters on bicycles. All will be approaching Barnett Road from either side, having experienced miles of continuous, uninterrupted Greenway trail without having to worry about vehicular traffic.
- Currently, Barnett Road is the busiest east/west connector in all of Southern Oregon, with added hazards of dozens of emergency vehicles traveling east daily to Rogue Valley Medical Center.
- When the new interchange is completed it will be the largest interchange in all of Southern Oregon. Traffic on Barnett Road will increase exponentially. There will be 150 feet of asphalt roadway, and seven traffic lanes, including a 20-foot island, for Greenway users to negotiate. Cars making a free right turn from Highland onto Barnett will be driving through the crosswalk — and it is commonly known among traffic planners that cars making free right turns are looking left toward traffic. Siting what will be an extremely busy crosswalk at such a location is a significant hazard.
- Considering that the entire vision upon which this Greenway has been built is having a bike/pedestrian path where riders and walkers do not have to worry about vehicular traffic, the crosswalk does not fit the definition of "safe passage" on a Greenway. It does not fit the vision of a Greenway.
- Directly to the north of Barnett Road there are six American Little League fields that host at least 300 children and parents regularly. The Greenway gives wonderful access to this area. The Greenway here also accesses a BMX park, a skateboard park, tennis courts, an amphitheater used for summer concerts and annual events and the most beautiful park in Medford, Bear Creek Park. This certainly demands safe Greenway access and safe passage at Barnett Road.
- To the south of Barnett Road, the new Medford Sports Park is being built with five softball fields, two smaller softball fields for girls, three baseball fields and six soccer fields. The Greenway goes to and through this entire park and will enable hundreds of children to get from Medford, Central Point and elsewhere to these fields via their bikes or by walking. Safe passage at Barnett Road is imperative for all of these young people.
- The Greenway is important for non-motorized, alternative transportation for many college and community college students to get from campus to campus in our Southern Oregon communities. It also is strategically important for many Southern Oregon residents who commute to their jobs. Safety once again becomes a huge issue.
A traffic light creates huge safety implications and minimizes the integrity of our entire Greenway effort, an effort that encompasses 30 years, $20 million and much municipality and community involvement. We need a final Greenway connection that protects all of us.
The foundation is proceeding with a $261,000 preliminary engineering report to comply with federal highway parameters for the possible Barnett bridge over-crossing. It's certainly not a sure thing, but a major second step after identifying safe options. It is our opportunity to do it right! Please weigh in with your comments at www.bearcreekgreenway.com.
Joy Olson is a board member of the Bear Creek Greenway Foundation.