Transportation officials have passed a major milestone in efforts to build a four-mile bypass freeway to reduce congestion on Highway 62.

Transportation officials have passed a major milestone in efforts to build a four-mile bypass freeway to reduce congestion on Highway 62.

The U.S. Department of Transportation recently approved an extensive environmental review of the route, which ultimately will extend seven miles from Interstate 5 to past White City.

With only $120 million of the $440 million needed for the entire freeway in its coffers, the Oregon Department of Transportation plans to build just the first four miles, starting near the Sportsman's Warehouse, crossing over Vilas Road and ending at Corey Road, just south of White City.

Medford city Councilor Al Densmore, who was involved in planning efforts for the new highway, said the bypass should entice commuter and freight traffic off existing Highway 62, though he anticipates that the intersection at Poplar Avenue still will have congestion issues.

"My vision, or my hope, is that the original Highway 62 corridor will become a bit slower and generally safer," Densmore said.

He said the project will be a boost economically during the two years of construction.

With federal approval in hand, the Oregon Department of Transportation will begin buying up to 699 acres of private property to build the four-lane freeway that will roughly follow the old Medco Haul Road that runs parallel on the west side of Highway 62.

ODOT plans to seek bids for the project in March 2014 and start work the following June. Construction is expected to take two years.

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

Five businesses will be displaced when the bypass is built.

Scott White, owner of Fast Boyz & Girlz Toyz on Crater Lake Highway and Bullock Road, said he's struggled to find a new location for his business.

"I was supposed to be out by Jan. 8," he said. "I don't have a choice."

White, who was leasing the building, said he's moved items from his business to his home because he knows he's going to have to leave soon.

"It's getting down to the wire," he said.

Alan Tolner, manager of Affordable Truck and RV Center, said, "We were supposed to be out of here two years ago. When it happens, it happens."

Tolner said he's not sure whether the bypass is worth the investment of tax dollars, but said he's confident that he can work with ODOT in securing a new location.

ODOT spokesman Gary Leaming said engineers have been working on a project that had been estimated to cost as much as $150 million.

"We're thinking we're in the ballpark for $120 million," he said.

Leaming said engineers have spent considerable time trimming features of the project and reducing the impacts to property owners.

The approved design cuts the number of acres needed from 987 to 699, and the number of affected parcels from 76 to 58. The number of displaced businesses has been reduced from 10 to five. The number of homeowners who will be displaced has dropped from seven to four.

A Vilas Road overpass will have a lower profile bridge, but its design will allow for exit and entrance ramps in the future.

Engineers originally designed a new, one-mile road to access a portion of Commerce Drive. However, an undercrossing will be built to save costs, Leaming said.

Improvements at Delta Waters have been scaled back, and a new intersection will not be installed.

Engineers did add a left-turn lane for motorists traveling northbound on the existing Highway 62 who want to enter the new expressway near Corey Road. Under the previous design, motorists would have had to make a U-turn farther up the highway.

ODOT originally was scheduled to begin the project this summer, according to a legislative timeline.

Leaming said pending land-use issues and right-of-way purchases helped push the start date into 2014.

"We're showing good progress to get it going," he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or email