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New speed-limit signs go up on Foothill Road

MEDFORD — New signs reducing the speed limit on Foothill Road were installed Thursday morning above and below the site of an October fatal accident.

But county officials say plans to install further safety features at the intersection with Lone Pine Road have been put on hold after motorists complained about the proposed changes.

"We were bombarded by people who were legitimately upset about this," said John Vial, Jackson County director of roads and parks, adding he had personally received 10 calls from people who lived in the area.

The speed limit officially has been changed from the current "basic rule" (travel at a speed that is reasonable and prudent, not to exceed 55 mph) to 45 mph from Hillcrest Road to just north of McAndrews Road, and from 45 mph to 35 mph just north of McAndrews to 150 feet north of Eucalyptus Drive, said Jackson County Engineer Mike Kuntz.

But plans to place "right turn only" signs on Lone Pine Road and tall flexible plastic tubes — similar to those on sections of Biddle Road — in the center line of Foothill Road at the intersection have been scrapped, at least temporarily, said Kuntz.

The floppy "candlesticks" would prevent northbound drivers on Foothill from making left turns onto Lone Pine Road. That, and the removal of the left-turn option, has angered some local motorists, said Vial.

"It is a large inconvenience for people using Lone Pine to have that left-turn lane closed," he said.

Neighbors in the Lone Pine area became "vigorous in their complaints" regarding the proposed changes, said Kuntz.

"The people who complained live in the area and said they'd have to go down to Cedar Links every time they want to go anyplace," said Kuntz. "So we're going to watch and see how well the speed-limit signs work."

Vial said the county also has concerns about drivers making illegal U-turns or using private driveways in order to circumvent the candlesticks.

"Our approach is let's see if the lowered speed limit and increased enforcement does the job," said Vial.

Charles Sugg, 67, died in an accident at the busy intersection while riding his motorcycle on Oct. 6, 2008. His widow, Doris Sugg, began a campaign to lower the speed limit at the crash site from 45 mph to 35 mph. She was joined by Robert Hamburg, the man who was driving the truck Charles Sugg collided with.

Sugg and Hamburg say it is a mistake to back off on implementing needed changes that will protect drivers at the dangerous intersection.

"My husband lost his life in large part due to the problems with the road," Sugg said, adding she and Hamburg have been battling to protect the next victim.

By yielding to "a few complaints," the city and county are taking risks with others' lives, Sugg said.

"They will be playing Russian roulette, gambling on no more accidents versus the next accident — perhaps involving a child or 20 children," she said. "Will they then be satisfied with the 'wait and see' approach?"

Medford police have responded to 17 crashes at the intersection over the past five years, Detective Sgt. Mike Budreau said. However, the accident tally at the intersection may be even higher as the area's patrol and response are shared by Medford police, Jackson County sheriff's deputies and Oregon State Police, he said.

Hamburg said he was saddened and worried about the safety delays.

"Lives are going to be lost over this and that's just sad," Hamburg said. "I wouldn't wish what Doris is going through, or what I have had to deal with, on anyone."

Hamburg and Charles Sugg were traveling in opposite directions on Foothill Road when both attempted to turn onto Lone Pine Road. Both were traveling well under the speed limits when the crash occurred. The previously proposed changes — and more — are needed to save lives, said Hamburg.

"They are putting a Band-Aid on a broken arm," said Hamburg. "I was going about five miles per hour and Charles was doing maybe 25 or 30. Why don't they close off Lone Pine and make it a dead end? Or at least a four-way-stop with a turn lane?"

A dropping curve limits sight lines as southbound traffic approaches the intersection. Many drivers have ignored the black-on-yellow signs suggesting drivers slow to 30 mph as they are simply "advisory in nature," said Kuntz. The situation is further complicated by the intersection's shared jurisdiction. Half of the intersection is owned by the county, the other half by the city of Medford, he added.

A planned development on the northeast side of Lone Pine ultimately will result in a new road connecting Lone Pine and McAndrews, Kuntz said.

"But that doesn't exist today," Kuntz said, adding he did not know when the stalled development would be completed.

Sugg said she is disappointed all safety precautions are not being immediately implemented.

"The ultimate crime here is inaction," said Sugg. "There is a wrong here. They need to right it."

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.