TALENT — A three-lane "road diet" design has gained City Council support for the reconfiguration of Highway 99 from Rapp Road to Creel Road. Work is projected to be done in 2015.
By a 5-1 vote, the council on Wednesday recommended the diet strategy to the Oregon Department of Transportation. The project will add bike lanes, sidewalks and center turn options. The road is currently two lanes in each direction.
The council also supported ODOT's proposal to reduce the road to three lanes from Creel to South Valley View Road just north of Ashland. Both approaches would be similar to the road diet instituted in Ashland during October for Highway 99 from downtown to the north city limits.
"The traffic-calming offset is that it minimizes the speeders coming through," said Councilor Darby Stricker, who supported the slimmed-down design. She also said she thinks it will aid business development.
"(Highway) 99 is one of our best economic development opportunities," said Stricker.
Councilor Diane Glendenning, who cast the dissenting vote, voiced concerns about the potential for transitions from four to three lanes and then back in a short distance if ODOT doesn't change the Creel to South Valley View Road section. The highway north of Rapp is four lanes with a center median.
"We may be stuck with something we might not want for 20 years," Glendenning said after the meeting.
Ashland made its road diet a one-year experiment that can be reversed, she noted.
Support for the three-lane approach came from seven individuals who spoke during a public comment period. One speaker said the five-lane approach inside the city limits offers an abundance of benefits.
Concerns for customers in cars and on bikes making left turns in and out of his business led Ian Bagshaw, owner of Flywheel Bicycle Solutions at 550 S. Highway 99, to call for the three-lane approach.
"I would like to show my support for the road diet," said Bagshaw.
Requests by bicycle commuters who ride between Ashland and Medford prompted ODOT's consideration of the road diet outside city limits.
"With the current right of way, and (based on) comments from velo clubs and bicyclists, we didn't leave enough room for them to ride," ODOT Senior Planner Ian Horlacher said before the meeting.
City Councilor Chris Auer, a cyclist, stated that Highway 99 is too unsafe to allow him to commute to Ashland, and the Bear Creek Greenway takes riders too far out of the way.
Changes to Highway 99 outside the city limits would come in 2016 or later depending on funding, said Art Anderson, ODOT area manager. He said other stakeholders would be included in discussions of the changes, possibly through the Rogue Valley Metropolitan Planning Organization.
A total of $3.2 million, including $400,000 from the city of Talent, is available to perform the road diet work from Rapp to Creel. A five-lane option would require another $1.6 million and acquisition of right of way.
A three-lane approach in town would avoid impacts on parking and landscaping at some businesses along the highway, said City Planner Mark Knox.
A study performed for ODOT showed a projected 25 to 40 percent reduction in traffic accidents from Rapp to South Valley View Road. Analysis of traffic data for six years showed 43 accidents in the section. There were two fatalities at the intersection of Creel with Highway 99.
Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at email@example.com.