Ownership of Highway 99 will remain with state

    (See correction note below)
    PHOENIX — Officials with the city and the Oregon Department of Transportation have abandoned discussions of transferring jurisdiction of Highway 99 through downtown Phoenix.

    Both sides determined a transfer of ownership would not benefit either side.

    ODOT spokesman Gary Leaming said city and state officials had been discussing the matter in recent months but had reached no consensus.

    City Manager Joe Wrabek said the city had negotiated a suitable payment for taking over responsibility for the roadway but that state transportation officials initially wanted to deduct "what (Phoenix) would eventually owe for its portion of the Fern Valley interchange project."

    Such an arrangement, Wrabek said, would not help the cash-strapped city with much-needed roadwork.

    A later offer of $500,000 to the city, ODOT spokesperson Gary Leaming said Friday, was not accepted either, both due to the amount being insufficient for the city to complete needed work to the road and to the city's lack of staffing for managing a major arterial.

    Wrabek said the city considered taking over the road in the mistaken assumption that it would allow greater influence over future decisions with nearby Fern Valley Road intersections.

    "Even if we took over jurisdiction, it would still have to be run as a state highway and we didn't really want more work to keep up with, especially with no money."

    An aside, recent talks of a project "hit list" to be reviewed for cutbacks Jan. 8 by area transportation consultants includes the Fern Valley interchange as one of several projects to be delayed or changed as a result of statewide transportation spending cuts.

    Leaming and Fern Valley interchange project manager Dick Leever conceded Friday that the Phoenix interchange would be less likely than a number of projects on the list to be cut or delayed.

    "Fern Valley is in a pretty good spot. We're almost to the environmental documents, so the risk of delivering the project is good," Leever said, noting that reopening of the nearby Talent interstate overpass last month had relieved congestion somewhat, a small amount of relief for motorists accessing the Phoenix exit.

    "This one would not be likely to get cut "¦ it's in a better position than a lot of other projects, so we're moving ahead at this point. It needs to be done. It's a necessity."

    An earlier announced meeting for Jan. 8 in Grants Pass has been relocated for the same time at ODOT offices in White City, 100 Antelope Road. The meeting begins at 2 p.m.

    Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at buffypollock@juno.com.

    Correction: Ownership of Highway 99 through Phoenix will remain with the state, although the city considered taking it over. Headlines with the original version of this story incorrectly stated the situation.

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