• ODOT open house to detail 99 corridor ideas

  • Vehicle lanes on Highway 99 from south Medford to Phoenix would be narrowed to allow for bike lanes under a draft corridor plan that Oregon's Department of Transportation will explain at an open house Thursday in Talent.
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  • Vehicle lanes on Highway 99 from south Medford to Phoenix would be narrowed to allow for bike lanes under a draft corridor plan that Oregon's Department of Transportation will explain at an open house Thursday in Talent.
    Narrower lanes are among 19 proposals contained in the study designed to plan for needs until 2035 on the road from Medford to Ashland. Inclusion in the plan is no assurance that a project will be funded.
    "We're trying to find a balance for Oregon 99 that meets the operational needs of the highway and local communities," said Ian Horlacher, an ODOT planner. "Much of the balance is tied directly to safety issues."
    ODOT has worked with Jackson County, Ashland, Talent and Phoenix since 2010 to develop the plan. David Evans and Associates of Portland prepared the document. The open house, from 4 to 7 p.m. at Fire District No. 5 headquarters, 5811 S. Pacific Highway, will include walk-through displays and the chance to question representatives.
    Other proposals include converting sections of the highway between cities to two lanes with bike lanes and center medians, entryways for downtown Phoenix, sidewalks or pedestrian areas along the entire route and more connections to the Bear Creek Greenway. Some of the projects could be accomplished by restriping the highway.
    Lane reduction would occur between Charlotte Ann Road in south Medford and Fern Valley Road in Phoenix. Outside lanes in the area are 12 to 14 feet wide, while the inner lanes are 12 feet, with a 14-foot center median. There are no bike lanes and limited sidewalks.
    Under the proposal, the median would be 12 to 14 feet wide and travel lanes 11 to 12 feet wide, with five-foot bike lanes on both sides of the road. Sidewalks would be added where needed. An 11-foot width is considered safe for vehicles, Horlacher said.
    Some public comment has been received in the month the plan has been available, said Horlacher.
    "There's some concerns with the proposed reductions of the lanes," said Horlacher. "Once I laid it out "¦ (that) it's only the areas with very low volume, people are a little more understanding, especially when you talk about accidents."
    Cities and the county "were part of the process," said Horlacher. "They helped formulate the plan. We have gotten constant feedback throughout the overall process."
    Jackson County, Medford, Phoenix and Talent are all revising or updating transportation plans, said Horlacher. He expects the jurisdictions to consider adoption of the plan as a reference document. Once that is done, the Oregon Traffic Commission could adopt it as ODOT's plan for Highway 99.
    Jackson County commissioners received a briefing on the plan earlier in the year after public concern about lane reductions arose.
    "Once the safety issues were explained, it looked to me like it's actually a pretty good plan," said County Commissioner Don Skundrick. "I've lived in the valley for 66 years. I'm used to 99 being a four-laner."
    Only one of the projects, redevelopment of Highway 99 from Rapp to Creel roads in Talent, has designated funding. Work will be done in 2015. The other projects would be implemented as need arises, according to the draft.
    Once adopted, ODOT will begin to search for funds. Restriping of roads to new lane configurations might occur as part of regular maintenance, Horlacher said. Only small amounts of right of way would need to be purchased to allow for sidewalks in some areas.
    The highway currently carries 16,000 vehicles per day at its busiest periods, and projections say all but one part can accommodate traffic until 2035. The intersection of Highway 99 and South Valley View Road north of Ashland is projected to exceed capacity earlier. The study recommends creating dual left turn lanes on South Valley View where it flows into the highway.
    From 2005 through 2009, there were 294 accidents in the corridor. Of those, 13 resulted in incapacitating injuries but no fatalities. Another 147 resulted in minor injuries, and 134 had property damage only. Half of the accidents were rear-end collisions, and 29 percent came while turning. Accidents at signalized intersections were 40 percent of the total.
    Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.
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