The best outcome at last

The decision by a county citizens' committee to keep Gold Ray Road open while allowing a stretch to be shared by Rogue River Greenway traffic and motor vehicles was the only sensible outcome. The Gold Ray Road Solutions Team deserves credit for recognizing that and making a necessary compromise that will keep alive the dream of a paved Greenway corridor running from Ashland to Grants Pass.

Rogue River Greenway planners have wrestled for nearly two years with a bottleneck created by Gold Ray Road, which runs 1.2 miles from Gold Ray Dam to a primitive but popular boat ramp. The gravel road is sandwiched between the river, the railroad tracks and a cliff, leaving too little room to accommodate a two-lane road and a Greenway bike path.

The road itself is only 13 feet wide in places.

The suggestion in 2007 that the road might be closed and a new boat ramp constructed downstream of the existing one drew vocal opposition from fishing enthusiasts, many of whom would have had to drive an extra 10 miles into Gold Hill to reach the new boat ramp from Upper River Road. The proposal prompted 500 people to sign petitions opposing the closure.

Other suggestions, such as a roadway cantilevered over the river to allow it to be wider or a double-decker road for cars and bicycles, were simply too expensive to be practical.

The share-the-road solution will require cooperation from all users, especially drivers. But the concept should not be foreign to outdoor enthusiasts. As Jackson County Roads engineer Mike Kuntz explained, "In a lot of ways it would be more like a campground road."

That means extra caution from bicyclists and walkers, and very slow speeds plus extra caution by drivers. But, as anyone who has spent time in Oregon's campgrounds knows, that arrangement usually works very well.

At this point, with closing the road and cantilevers-in-the-sky options ruled out, the other choice would be no continuous Greenway path, which would be a shame. The ultimate goal — an uninterrupted path leading all the way from Ashland to Grants Pass — would be a tremendous asset to Southern Oregon.

The process so far hasn't been exactly smooth, and there probably will be more bumps in the road ahead. But solving this conflict of uses will keep the project moving in the right direction.

The initial reaction of fishing groups to the possible road closure was fueled by mistrust and a certain measure of paranoia that the decision already had been made and could not be stopped. The counter-reaction from the Rogue Valley Council of Governments — that the process has been nothing but positive and collegial, and closing the road was never a probability, is a comforting spin, but ignores the reality that the road closure was seriously discussed and did generate immediate and vocal opposition.

In the end, the best solution won out. All of the Rogue Valley will be the better for it.

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