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I-5 project throws Greenway a curve

Medford south interchange plans will shift bike-path work toward Phoenix

Bulldozers and bike paths mix poorly, at best. Plans to rebuild Medford's south freeway interchange have prompted Bear Creek Greenway officials to shift next summer's bike-path construction south. The new 2.75-mile section of the bike path will connect Medford's future sports park and Phoenix's new Blue Heron Park.

Original construction plans called for extending the bike path from Barnett Road to South Stage Road. As the scope of the freeway project emerged, Greenway planners decided to move their building project to avoid possible conflicts with the highway interchange construction.

We didn't want to build something that we'd have to tear up in a year, said Karen Smith, Greenway coordinator for Jackson County.

The final route for the bike path between Barnett Road and the Medford sports park will be laid out after highway engineers have finished their designs for the freeway interchange, said Greg Jones, Medford's parks director.

That way we'll know where all their piers are going to go, Jones said, so we won't have to move anything.

Funds for the &

36;3.3 million project come mostly from the federal government, through the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (often known by its acronym TEA-21).

The new park-to-park leg of the bike path will fill part of a 7-mile gap in the middle of an 18-mile paved path along Bear Creek that will eventually link Central Point, Ashland and all the cities in between.

Smith said Greenway advocates hope to complete the last two sections of the bike path ' a 2-mile section between Barnett Road and the Medford sports park, and a 1.5-mile section from Phoenix to Talent ' by 2005.

Smith said the Greenway and the city of Medford will share the costs of a bridge that will span Bear Creek in the new sports park. The 234-foot span will include two vehicle travel lanes for park users and a separate 12-foot corridor for the bike path.

It's a great deal for all of us, Jones said. combining forces, we were able to save on the design costs.

Bridge construction costs will run in the neighborhood of &

36;900,000, Jones said. The city will pay about &

36;500,000; the Greenway, &

36;400,000.

If the Bear Creek Greenway Foundation can raise enough money to meet that 2005 completion date, 32 years will have passed since the first section of the Greenway bike path was built in Medford. The idea for a pedestrian path connecting towns along Bear Creek is even older ' talk of a recreational path along the creek first surfaced in the 1890s.

Construction of the Greenway bike path stalled when funding sources dried up. The project found new life in the 1990s, when Congress approved laws that funded non-automotive transportation such as bicycling.

Greenway Foundation president Al Densmore said he hopes completing the path will encourage communities to enhance it with projects of their own.

The foundation is just out there raising money as quickly as we can to get it finished, he said.

Reach reporter Bill Kettler at 776-4492, or e-mail