Fern Valley interchange project delayed

ODOT official says it actually could help lower construction bids

PHOENIX — Though a $73 million rebuild of the failing Fern Valley interchange will start six months later than expected, state and city officials say the delays won't cause any hiccups for local municipalities and could actual make some portions of the project easier than expected.

Oregon Department of Transportation officials confirmed Monday that right-of-way acquisitions and a lack of available certified property appraisers had added half a year's worth of delay to the process for rebuilding of the city's freeway access.

Fern Valley Interchange

For more on the Fern Valley project's plans, see www.oregon.gov/ODOT/HWY/REGION3/fvi_index.shtml.

While it was initially expected to put out to bid in April, bidding will now open the end of October.

"We've struggled with (right-of-way acquisitions) on this project mainly because there is an abundance of projects out there that are needing certified appraisers throughout the state," said ODOT spokesman Gary Leaming, noting that a large number of transportation projects had contributed to appraiser workloads around the region.

Leaming said the delay would find the project occurring during a time of year preferred to summer, when construction was initially expected to take place.

ODOT project leader Dick Leever said he anticipates lower contractor bids for a fall construction cycle, plus fewer obstacles with "instream" construction regulations for Bear Creek, which runs through the project.

"If we bid in April, contractors were really going to be rushed to get in and get started and would be doing in-water work for a period during summer," Leever said.

"Bidding it later, the contractor has that whole spring to mobilize and get things put together, so it's a little easier to get things put together. Yes, the project will start a little bit later, but I think by doing that, they'll probably make up some time just because there's more time to plan for it."

City engineer Jeff Ballard said the city saw no major issues with recent delays. City officials anticipate completing utility relocation during construction of the interchange to eliminate tearing into roadways that will ultimately be changed for the new interchange.

"The city already has everything designed and ready to go," Ballard said.

"We're on ODOTs timetable but we have no issues with the delays. It's not uncommon with a project this large."

Planning for redesign of the city's freeway access began almost nine years ago.

Initially slated to break ground in 2009, the project was delayed after public outcry over the footprint of the interchange and impact from a then-proposed widening of Highway 99.

A design change approved last year will use a "crossing diamond" interchange; a design that has been better received by the public and that ODOT officials say is well suited to the dynamics of the area.

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at buffypollock@juno.com.

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