A critical link in the Rogue River Greenway got a boost last week when the Oregon Transportation Commission approved $1 million to build a crossing for the 30-mile pedestrian pathway under a new section of Highway 140 north of Central Point.

A critical link in the Rogue River Greenway got a boost last week when the Oregon Transportation Commission approved $1 million to build a crossing for the 30-mile pedestrian pathway under a new section of Highway 140 north of Central Point.

The project, funded through a grant from the Oregon Department of Transportation, will allow the new pedestrian and bike path along the river to eventually connect with the Bear Creek Greenway between Ashland and Central Point.

Shayne Maxwell, chairwoman of the Rogue River Greenway Foundation, said the undercrossing is a necessary piece of the Rogue River Recreation Corridor that supporters hope will ultimately connect Central Point to Grants Pass.

"It's a silly thing not to have a safe way for pedestrians to cross a freight expressway," said Maxwell. "It's hard to build the Greenway and not have the connection."

She said a coordinated effort by Jackson County, ODOT and the Greenway organization helped secure funding for the crossing. The money will be part of almost $5 million that will be used to create a smoother connection between Interstate 5 and the Highway 140/Highway 62 intersection along the route of what is now Kirtland Road.

Currently, Kirtland meets Blackwell Road at a T-intersection. Under the realignment, Kirtland would be straightened to provide a better connection for trucks and other traffic.

Maxwell said about some stretches of the Rogue River Greenway already have been completed near the towns of Rogue River and Gold Hill.

Jayne Randleman, project leader for ODOT, said the design of the undercrossing hasn't been finalized, but she expects it to be less than 100 feet long, 24 feet wide and 11 feet high. A similar underpass in Warrenton was built at ground level and the roadway built over the top. That underpass has concrete walls and a concrete roof.

She said the wide design will allow for as much natural lighting as possible for security, but there will also be artificial lighting as well.

Randleman said a building a bridge over the roadway would have been far more expensive.

As part of the realignment, the existing railroad crossing will have to be moved 100 feet to the east, where it will cross Kirtland Road.

Construction is expected to start in 2010 and be completed in 2011. ODOT is currently rebuilding the interchange at Seven Oaks, just south of the realignment project.

As a temporary measure, ODOT will build a six-foot wide shoulder along the new stretch of Kirtland/Highway 140, north of the freeway, that will be used for the Greenway path that will connect with the undercrossing.

Jackson County has already designated a portion of a bridge that goes over the railroad tracks on Blackwell to be used for the Greenway. Maxwell said that eventually a more scenic path will be built once a right-of-way is selected.

Jenna Stanke, the county's Bear Creek Greenway coordinator, said some projects still remain on the Bear Creek Greenway, including the Barnett Road crossing and a section through the Jackson County Expo Center.

Stanke said there is still much work to be done to connect the existing Bear Creek Greenway to the Rogue River Greenway, but the end product would be a 50-mile bike and pedestrian path through Jackson County.

She said the 24-foot wide design of the undercrossing at Highway 140 is much wider than the Greenway path. The extra width plus the natural lighting should provide a safe crossing, she said.

With the undercrossing and path along Blackwell approved, Maxwell said the next step will be to get the pathway extended from Seven Oaks to somewhere near the Expo Center.

The pathway has also been proposed along Gold Ray Road to Upper River Road, but some residents and anglers have voiced opposition to that route because it includes closing part of a road used by anglers and boaters.

Maxwell said the crossing at the new Highway 140 link was a major step in a project that still has many other hurdles to clear — including a bridge over the Rogue River at Gold Hill — before it's complete. .

"I'm trying to navigate through all these little hiccups," she said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com.