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ODOT will discuss Phoenix off-ramp

PHOENIX ' It takes a bit of daring and a lot of luck to safely make a left-hand turn from the Interstate 5 off-ramp on to Fern Valley Road.

Motorists entering Phoenix from either direction ' along with semi-truck drivers headed for the Petro Shopping Center ' must find gaps in the high volume of traffic along Fern Valley Road while coping with poor visibility.

But plans are in the works to make the interchange and connecting road safe for everybody. Residents can learn about those details during an open house today.

The Oregon Department of Transportation will host the open house from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Phoenix Public Works building, 1000 S. B St.

Project leaders and transportation officials will be on hand to answer questions, and informational material will be available.

According to ODOT Project Leader Debbie Timms, safety improvements should begin in February or March 2003. The project will cost an estimated &

36;2.45 million and will soon go to bid this month, Timms added.

Plans call for moving Luman and North Phoenix roads farther away from the I-5 ramps. Luman Road will be relocated along Bear Creek Bridge, while North Phoenix Road will be shifted east to align with newly constructed South Phoenix Road.

South Phoenix Road is a separate project spearheaded by the city. Phoenix City Planner Denis Murray said that work will wrap up this fall when the new roadway connects to Pear Tree Lane.

Under ODOT's plan, Luman and Fern Valley roads will also get a traffic signal, which will improve access at the nearby outlet mall.

That's going to allow people coming off I-5 to make those lefts, Timms said.

Traffic signals will be installed after the roadwork is complete at the I-5 ramps.

Timms said the state will also widen the northbound off-ramp, allowing for a right turn lane. Once in place, the change should help traffic traveling to the eastern side of I-5 and North Phoenix Road.

The Fern Valley interchange was built more 40 years ago and often serves as a route for traffic headed into southeast Medford via North Phoenix Road.

Originally designed for a small rural area, the interchange has become a safety concern. Traffic congestion often extends all the way to the freeway lanes. ODOT officials say the problem will only get worse as time passes.

Although the state does not record the number of vehicles entering or exiting I-5 from Fern Valley interchange, more than 40,000 motorists pass over the interchange itself daily.

According to Murray, the entire Fern Valley corridor is scheduled for an overhaul, a project that comes with an estimated &

36;22 million pricetag. Funding has not been secured for many of the proposed improvements.

One part of the project includes replacing Bear Creek bridge, which is too small and cannot be expanded. Other plans call for expanding Fern Valley Road at the Highway 99 intersection into a five-lane configuration.

Murray said the city of Phoenix has pledged &

36;1 million to the overhaul.

We're trying to scrape up the money, he added.

Reach reporter Jill Briskey at 776-4485, or e-mail