Right-of-way hitches may delay downtown upgrade

Medford's Fourth Street and Central Avenue intersection is destined for $1.8 million project

A $1.8 million upgrade at the intersection of Fourth Street and Central Avenue in downtown Medford might be delayed for another 18 months because the city has bumped into lengthy negotiations over rights of way.

As a result, one of the main proponents of the intersection, City Councilor Al Densmore, has signaled that he would be willing to discuss spending the money on another worthwhile downtown project.

"If, for example, parking problems need to be dealt with in some way, we may be on the horns of a dilemma," Densmore said.

He said he still thinks the intersection improvement is a worthy expenditure as MURA spends its remaining dollars.

"It's a key intersection," he said. "The whole signal is pretty old. There is some sense of urgency to rebuild in a near-term horizon."

The city wants to tear down the Shoes Right Here store at the southeast corner of the intersection and move a sign on the southwest corner to provide more room for turn lanes and sidewalks. To install the signals, the city needs to obtain rights of way on the other two corners.

A representative from the Elks Lodge, which owns the shoe store property, would not discuss the situation publicly Friday.

The intersection project is one of 14 identified by MURA in 2011 as it decided how to spend its remaining $11.5 million. It also was one of the most hotly contested projects.

An 18-month time line for the intersection work is long enough that some other project might become more pressing, Densmore said.

He added that he was surprised at the long lead time required for the intersection work, because a year already has passed since MURA approved the project.

"It's one of those issues that have to come to resolution much more rapidly than that," Densmore said. "The situation is fluid."

Densmore said that despite his support for the intersection, he likes to remain flexible.

"I've tried, in my public mind, never to dig my heels in too far," he said.

Over the past year, MURA board members have discussed the need for additional parking downtown, particularly with the anticipated growth around The Commons, which features two park blocks and the Lithia Motors headquarters.

One of the arguments for improving the Fourth and Central intersection is increased traffic generated around The Commons, located just a block to the east off Fourth Street.

Dick Gordon, chairman of the MURA board, had reservations about committing $1.8 million toward the intersection work in 2011. He said he was somewhat surprised to hear that Densmore is willing to discuss reallocating the money.

"I had not heard Al say that, but I think we're all thinking that," he said. "If you don't spend the money, you may want to reallocate it in the next year's budget."

Gordon said parking is a big concern for MURA, and he said it is possible that MURA might be confronted with a parking project that could require reallocating money.

Cory Crebbin, public works director, said he hopes to resolve right-of-way issues by this summer, but he can't promise it.

"Sometimes you have a breakthrough," he said.

Crebbin said the intersection is one of the 10 worst intersections for accidents in the city. In 2011, five accidents were reported there.

"It's a good safety project," he said.

The signals are so old that Crebbin anticipates they will have to be removed in the next few years.

As a public works project, the intersection is a priority, Crebbin said, but he said he understands if the city establishes another priority.

"I want to do whatever project the council or the MURA board funds," Crebbin said.

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

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