PHOENIX — Interstate drivers not doing business in Phoenix near Fern Valley Road are encouraged to avoid Exit 24 for a week beginning Monday.

PHOENIX — Interstate drivers not doing business in Phoenix near Fern Valley Road are encouraged to avoid Exit 24 for a week beginning Monday.

"If people don't have business right in that area it might be better to use the Talent or Medford exits," said County Engineer Dale Petrasek.

The city will likely see traffic come to a crawl on Fern Valley Road this week as Jackson County begins a $40,000 "fiber wrapping" project on the cracked Bear Creek bridge to strengthen it and buy it some time until the new interchange and a replacement crossing over Bear Creek are built.

Shear cracks in the concrete girders of the Bear Creek bridge mean it's not safe for heavy loads. Pioneer Waterproofing of Portland will put a type of epoxy on the cracks and place a fiber material over it to add support.

"It's a big Band-Aid," said Petrasek, adding that the work's cost is coming out of a county roads contingency fund.

Beginning Monday morning, only one lane will be open for vehicles, and flaggers will be on hand to allow one direction of traffic through at a time.

It was either that or further reduce load limits, said Petrasek, adding that 80,000-pound weight limits were put in place earlier this year. Further limits would cause hardship to businesses in and around Phoenix because trucks would have to use Exit 21 in Talent or Exit 27 in Medford, he said.

The work is expected to continue through Saturday, Nov. 3.

Petrasek said it worked out well for everyone that the bridge resurfacing work on the overpass in Talent was completed Friday, since that exit may absorb some of the motorists who use the Phoenix exit.

Approaching the end of its life expectancy, the nearly 60-year-old bridge over Bear Creek was one of 39 county bridges slated for replacement under a state program to replace old and failing spans in Oregon. But funding for the project was put on hold after its inclusion in a $44 million rebuild of the Fern Valley interchange, which has itself been delayed by controversy over its design and the impact it will have on central Phoenix.

Petrasek said citizen involvement slowed the Oregon Department of Transportation project, but he couldn't say that without those delays the interchange project would have begun by now.

"We probably still would have had to go through this (the temporary strengthening)," he said.

Gary Leaming, project information coordinator for ODOT, said if the interchange project stays on track, the agency anticipates completing the environmental assessment of several interchange designs in 2008. Once an alternative is selected, ODOT would have to complete the design and put the project out to bid. Construction is expected to begin in 2010, with completion in 2012, he said.

Reach reporter Meg Landers at 776-4481 or e-mail mlanders@mailtribune.com.