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A New Exit Strategy

CENTRAL POINT — Backed-up traffic at Exit 33 on Interstate 5 could become a thing of the past if about $3 million in improvements to the interchange is approved.

Oregon Department of Transportation officials say the relatively simple improvements would accommodate traffic through 2030, when Central Point's population is expected to grow from about 17,300 to 26,000 people.

The improvements under consideration include two right-turn lanes onto East Pine Street from the northbound off-ramp and two left-turn lanes from Pine to the southbound on-ramp. ODOT officials said a ballpark cost for the improvements is about $3 million.

"They've filtered out quite a few different ideas to get to this point," said ODOT spokesman Gary Leaming.

The changes were proposed as a result of an Interchange Access Management Plan for Exit 33 drafted by ODOT. The state recently conducted similar reports at every Interstate 5 interchange across the state.

"So as development occurs, we kind of have a road map to guide us," said Allie Krull, project manager.

Central Point is expected to become Jackson County's second largest city by 2030, outpacing Ashland. With population growth comes increased development, traffic and freight loads, transportation officials say.

Transportation officials considered a divergent diamond pattern for Exit 33, similar to what is planned for the Fern Valley Interchange at Exit 24, or adding loop ramps. Those redesigns have been abandoned, however, because of the high cost and the difficulty in reconfiguring the exit, Leaming said.

"These are pretty low-impact proposals if you're just adding an additional turn lane to help clear the interchange ramps," Leaming said.

Additional improvements could include bike lanes, improved sidewalks and a bicycle traffic signal at the southbound on-ramp.

ODOT officials said they are also considering making Jewett School Drive right-in, right-out-only at its intersection with Pine Street. An additional left turn lane could also be added from East Pine Street onto Freeman Road.

"Those could be done as separate projects," Krull said.

The plans likely wouldn't require any major right-of-way purchases, Krull added, though specifics are not yet available. ODOT said it has been coordinating with city officials to minimize any impacts on Central Point's planned improvements to East Pine Street as it runs through downtown.

"We've been able to work it out so far," said Central Point Community Development Director Tom Humphrey. "The improvements haven't been as significant as they once thought."

If the plans are approved, construction won't start for at least three years, as capital improvement funds are not yet available to pay for the project.

"We're quite a few years out from any kind of construction," Leaming said.

ODOT will present and discuss the proposed changes to Exit 33 during a meeting from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 6, at the Central Point City Council Chambers, 140 S. Third St.

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or by email at rpfeil@mailtribune.com.

Central Point’s Exit 33 interchange is scheduled to get about $3 million in improvements in the next few years to relieve traffic congestion.