PHOENIX — Work began in earnest Sunday night on a phase of the $72 million Fern Valley interchange rebuilding project that could cause traffic to back up during morning and afternoon commutes.
Interstate 5 has been reduced to single lanes for a mile in both directions while crews dig a trench and lay a 4-foot drainage pipe that will divert water runoff from the new interchange. The work is expected to last 25 days.
Oregon Department of Transportation spokesperson Gary Leaming said traffic flow on Monday was surprisingly smooth with no visible backups.
Increased traffic along Highway 99, Leaming said, indicated that some of the motoring public had taken ODOT's advice to avoid the interchange if possible.
"Crews have been making really good headway and traffic control seems to be moving along pretty well," Leaming said.
"There's really been virtually no backup that I have seen. ... I think there's been some change in driving habit, from what I can detect. I think people heeded our advice to leave early, change your route and drive at non-peak times."
While preparations around Highway 99 and Fern Valley Road began early this year, the trench work, to be followed by excavation of the new interchange area, are the first components to impact traffic "in a significant way," Leaming said.
Upon completion of the new interchange, slated for September 2016, the 4-foot pipe will divert runoff into a detention pond that will help reduce impurities in the water before it's released into nearby Bear Creek.
Leaming said crews would spend 14-hour days digging the 11-foot hole for the trench but that traffic would not be impacted differently whether crews were present or not.
"Lane isolation is exactly the same at night as it is during the day when crews are out there working," said Leaming.
"Now that it's a posted work zone out there and one-lane traffic, people need to really pay attention. The speed limit is 50 mph even when the crews aren't there. And fines double in work zones."
Leaming declined to speculate whether the work would take the entire 25 days budgeted.
"They're making really good time right now, so it could wrap up early," he said.
"People should just plan on it taking the full 25 days and if it's done sooner than that, it'll just be a pleasant surprise."
Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at email@example.com.