Bear Creek Greenway's last link

Medford council backs plan for pedestrian bridge over Barnett Road that would be the final link in completing the Bear Creek Greenway from Ashland to Central Point

After months of research, Medford officials Thursday endorsed the idea of building a $2.2 million pedestrian bridge over Barnett Road to complete the last link in the Bear Creek Greenway.

"This is a 19-mile project that is essentially done, but for this project," said Greenway Foundation Director Lee Mills as he spoke to the Medford City Council.

Most council members had pinned their hopes on building a $1.9 million underpass at Barnett Road, but that option is fraught with problems, including acquiring private property, environmental concerns and safety issues raised because there would be only an eight-foot clearance under the bridge at Bear Creek. The underpass also would be subject to occasional flooding, which would require more long-term maintenance.

The council received a copy of a $39,000 report on seven options to cross Barnett Road prepared by OBEC Consulting Engineers of Eugene. The report substantiated an earlier report that found the overpass to be the best option.

Mayor Gary Wheeler expressed disappointment that the underpass wouldn't work, but said, "I for one would support the overcrossing option."

The council took no formal vote, but those who spoke expressed support for the overcrossing.

The proposed bridge would span Barnett Road at Highland Drive on the west side of the intersection where Greenway users currently cross. Where the bridge meets the dog park, a ramp to the left has been proposed to avoid consuming too much park space. The ramp would run parallel with Barnett.

City officials had expressed concern that original ramp design would take too much of the park.

The Greenway path now extends from Ashland to Central Point, and the Barnett Road crossing is the only place Greenway users have to confront vehicle traffic. Greenway users have supported some kind of bridge to avoid having to contend with large volumes of fast-moving traffic on Barnett.

Another path, the Rogue River Greenway, is being developed to follow the river from Central Point to Grants Pass. Its completion would create a continuous pedestrian way from Ashland to Grants Pass.

The federal government has earmarked $600,000 toward the pedestrian bridge, and the Greenway Foundation has committed another $100,000 to the project. Medford officials and the Greenway Foundation hope to secure more federal and state money to build the bridge.

Mills said the Greenway Foundation has supported the overcrossing for some time and urged the City Council to take the lead in promoting the bridge to take advantage of the federal money.

"If we don't use it, we'll lose it," he said.

The foundation has supported the bridge idea for more than a year. Mills said the underpass proposal was troubling for women on the Greenway committee, who were concerned for women's safety.

Councilman Al Densmore urged the council to draft a letter to the local congressional delegation seeking federal and state money for construction.

Densmore said he's been a supporter of the overpass for months and that it would be a signature project that would finally say the Greenway is completed.

Councilman James Kuntz questioned the $2.2 million estimate to complete the bridge and worried that costs might go out of control.

Mayor Wheeler said the Greenway Foundation needs to step up and contribute to the bridge along with other parties.

"This shouldn't just be a city of Medford project," he said.

Cory Crebbin, Medford public works director, pointed out that the Greenway Foundation had been instrumental in getting the $600,000 federal funding for the project.

The Oregon Department of Transportation is the lead agency in the proposed bridge project, but state officials are working on an agreement to turn over control of the project to Medford.

Both the city and Greenway officials hope a federal economic stimulus package proposed by President-elect Barack Obama could help pay for the bridge.

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


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