A busy four-lane section of Jackson Street, from Central Avenue to Biddle Road, will be slimmed down to three lanes to make it safer, but motorists might see longer lines because of the changes.
The project, which likely will be built next year, is one of three that are designed to make streets safer in Medford and will be paid for by a $1.25 million state grant.
"This is not about reducing traffic, this is about reducing accidents," said Cory Crebbin, Medford public works director.
The City Council on Thursday approved an agreement with the Oregon Department of Transportation that paves the way for grants from the Highway Safety Improvement and All Road Transportation Safety programs.
The grants also will pay for improved traffic signals and warning beacons at the intersections at East McAndrews Road and Court Street and South Riverside and Stewart avenues.
The intersection of Jackson and Central sees an average of 25,750 vehicles a day and had 12 crashes in 10 months, from January to September 2013. It ranks No. 3 on the city's most accident-prone intersections, which were rated based on their ratio of crashes to vehicles.
"It has about one accident a month," Crebbin said.
The No. 1 worst intersection is Main Street and North Ross Lane, with 12 crashes in a 10-month period but an average daily traffic volume of 23,900. The second worst is 10th Street and Oakdale Avenue with five crashes and an average volume of 10,350.
By going from four lanes in both directions to two with a designated left-turn lane, there will be better control of traffic turning left and less weaving as motorists change lanes, sometimes crashing into other vehicles.
While traffic queues might be longer, Crebbin said engineering modeling shows the streets can handle the load without severe backups.
Reducing streets from four lanes to three is nothing new in Medford. On East Main Street near Hawthorne Park, the number of lanes also was reduced and accident levels have dropped significantly.
"That street is no longer on our top 50 list," Crebbin said.
Taco Bell on Jackson is a popular restaurant for left turns by motorists both pulling into and out of the parking lot.
The new left-turn lane, also referred to as a refuge lane, will give motorists a safer way to get in and out of the restaurant, Crebbin said.
Fourth Street, which is currently four lanes, has a lot fewer accidents, ranking 30th on the list with five accidents over the 10-month period.
Jackson will get bike lanes when the street restriping takes place.
The bulk of the money for Jackson will go into better traffic signals, including a flashing yellow left-turn light.
The council appeared hesitant about the prospect of longer lines at one of Medford's major intersections.
"If the queues are too long, can we put it back?" Councilor Kim Wallan said.
"We could restore it," Crebbin responded.
— Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.