Which way to go?

As Crater Lake Highway bypass project, financial and traffic impacts come to the fore
Traffic heats up Saturday on Highway 62 near Whittle and Sky Park drives. 9/15/12 Denise Baratta

Jackson County residents can speak their minds about plans for an eventual $400 million bypass route that could take up to 50 percent of traffic off busy Highway 62 in north Medford.

The Oregon Department of Transportation has studied the eight-mile, four-lane bypass proposal from Interstate 5 to just past the Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center and Clinics in White City.

Highway 62 Bypass

A four-mile, four-lane bypass is in the works for Highway 62, also known as Crater Lake Highway:

  • Cost: $127 million
  • Route: Follows the old Medco Haul Road starting near Poplar Drive and ending north of Corey Road
  • Impact: Could cut traffic up to 50 percent on Highway 62
  • Property owners affected: 76
  • Property owners' acres affected: 990
  • Public hearing: 5 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 17, at the Jackson County Parks auditorium, 7520 Table Rock Road, Central Point
  • Public comments: Mail them to Anna Henson, environmental project manager, Oregon Department of Transportation, ODOT Region 3, 100 Antelope Road, White City, OR 97503, or by email to anna.henson@odot.state.or.us
  • For more information: 541-774-6376

About $127 million is available to build four miles of the route, starting near Sportsman's Warehouse, crossing over Vilas Road and ending at Corey Road, just south of White City.

"We're trying to get the biggest bang for our buck to get a usable corridor," said ODOT spokesman Gary Leaming.

Comments can be submitted to ODOT through Oct. 29. A public hearing is set from 5 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 17, at the Jackson County Parks auditorium, 7520 Table Rock Road, Central Point.

The state Jobs and Transportation Act of 2009 provides $100 million toward the project, with the remainder made up of other state and federal dollars. More than $7 million is required for environmental analysis.

The preferred route would follow the old Medco Haul Road west of Highway 62, also known as Crater Lake Highway, and impact the fewest property owners. ODOT would have to purchase land from 76 property owners, totaling almost 990 acres.

Some of the changes would cause hardships on business owners. In the area just south of Whittle Avenue, motorists would be allowed only right-in and right-out access because of the new interchange that would connect to the bypass.

"As a motorist, I'm all for it," said Tyler Nesper, manager of Battery Systems at 2770 Crater Lake Highway. "As a store manager, it makes me a little nervous."

Nesper said he would like to think customers would make an extra effort to get to his store after the bypass is completed. But he worries that many might be upset they can't turn left out of his parking lot to get on the highway.

Chris Nolte, manager of Glidden Professional Paint Center at 2720 Crater Lake Highway, said he gets a lot of out-of-town visitors to his store and is worried about dividing the northbound and southbound traffic.

"If they do that, it will definitely hurt," Nolte said. "With new competition in town, it will make it easier for customers to shop at the big stores. We've had the same crew working here for the past 10 to 15 years."

The new route would start at a new interchange that would divert traffic off Crater Lake Highway onto the bypass just after Poplar Drive and before Whittle Avenue.

The bypass would follow the Medford airport to Vilas Road, where an overpass would be built without entrances or exits.

Just past Corey Road, traffic signals would be installed to direct traffic on and off the bypass. Crater Lake Avenue, which parallels Crater Lake Highway on the east side, would be extended to Gramercy Drive as part of the project.

Under the current proposal, the Denman Wildlife Area would not be affected by the bypass. However, if the bypass is extended through White City, the wildlife area would be impacted.

About 14 acres of wetlands and vernal pools would be affected by the project, though plans are in place to create new wetlands nearby.

Existing Crater Lake Highway through Medford would be improved, with sidewalks and bike lanes added where necessary.

Cyclists also would be allowed to use the shoulders of the bypass, but transportation officials hope the improvements to Crater Lake Highway make it a more attractive alternative.

Eventually, transportation officials want to create a new interchange at Interstate 5 that would provide a direct connection with the bypass.

An ODOT analysis predicts the bypass will reduce traffic by a third south of Delta Waters Road and by more than 50 percent between Delta Walters and Corey Road.

However, traffic on the existing highway would increase by about 20 percent at the point where it merges with the bypass near Poplar Drive.

ODOT officials hopes the bypass will bring down the number of crashes along Crater Lake Highway. From 2005 through 2009, ODOT calculates there were 689 crashes on Highway 62 from the freeway to White City.

During the first phase of the project, which could start next year, the bypass will take off just east of Poplar Drive and end at Vilas Road. That section of the bypass will not be opened until the second phase is completed.

The second phase, which will be from Vilas to Corey, will start about the time the first phase is finished.

The entire project could take four years to build, concluding in 2017.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or email dmann@mailtribune.com.



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