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  • Highway 99 draft plan would cut back lanes

  • State Highway 99 would be reduced to two traffic lanes from Valley View Road in Ashland to Garfield Street in Medford if a draft preferred alternative in a highway corridor plan is approved.
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  • State Highway 99 would be reduced to two traffic lanes from Valley View Road in Ashland to Garfield Street in Medford if a draft preferred alternative in a highway corridor plan is approved.
    A reduction of the highway from two lanes to one in each direction — with a center turn lane — would be needed to accommodate the bike lanes, said Ian Horlacher, a senior planner with Oregon Department of Transportation. ODOT began developing the plan 21/2; years ago.
    "This one has been enlightening because the department has shifted in the last three years as far as how we're looking at the roads," Horlacher said.
    "It's become increasingly more bicycle friendly, more multi-modal from start to end of the project," he said.
    Traffic counts and projections show that vehicle traffic could still be handled efficiently despite a reduction in lanes. The end result would be similar to Ashland's North Main Street "road diet" project, which was adopted by the City Council in November after a one-year trial. Medford has also reduced several sections of city streets from four to two lanes.
    Among key elements in the proposal:
    • Pedestrian safety and access to public transit would be upgraded, with the reduction in lanes aiding people crossing Highway 99. The study also looks at bus stop locations and accessibility issues.
    • Most of the work could be accomplished within the existing right of way, without need of additional land purchases. The roadway would re-striped.
    • Speeds in the non-urban sections of the highway would remain at 55 mph, but may be reduced in other places.
    • Jackson County, Medford, Talent and Phoenix would all need to sign off on portions of the project in their jurisdictions.
    Full implementation of the plan, if approved, is probably five to 10 years away, dependent on funding, said Horlacher.
    Five years ago, ODOT and Talent were both looking at a Rapp Road to Creel Road project as having five lanes with sidewalks, bike lanes and extensive water runoff work, requiring purchase of additional right of way along the road. It would have resembled work done in 2008 from Rapp to Colver Road.
    The Talent City Council approved study of the three-lane concept a year ago. Repaving of the Rapp-Creel section will be bid in 2014 with work in 2015 at which time the plan could be implemented.
    In Phoenix the changes would coincide with a city center plan under development by the town's urban renewal agency.
    "We have explored how the downtown can function differently than it does right now,' said agency Director Marla Cates. "Part of that is traffic flow."
    After exploring six options to the current highway set-up, a group in Phoenix composed of the planning commission, city council and agency board voted to go with single lanes and a "road diet" concept on Main Street and Bear Creek Drive, which are currently two-lane, one-way streets.
    Engineers are putting final touches on the rough concepts, said Cates. Plans will be shown to the public at an all-day open house Friday, Jan. 24, tentatively set for the Presbyterian Church, 121 W. Second St.
    "The city center plan will find a way to slow down traffic and "¦give us bike lane capacity with a lot more pedestrian safety aspects," said Cates.
    An open house on the overall Highway 99 plan will be held, said Horlacher. In addition presentations will be made to city councils in Talent and Phoenix. More information can be found at www.oregon.gov/ODOT/HWY/REGION3/Pages/OR99Corridor.aspx.
    Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.
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