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Freeway project is the first of many

Southern Oregon is slated for 14 major highway improvement tasks costing &

36;158.6 millionover the next five years

For years, Southern Oregon drivers have grumbled they were getting cut off when it came to state transportation projects.

Those grumblings should end, however, when the Oregon Department of Transportation embarks on more than a dozen major projects in the next five years that will rehabilitate the county's dysfunctional main thoroughfares.

The 14 projects will total &

36;158.6 million.

For a long time, Southern Oregon complained about not getting its fair share of the road projects, said John Vial, ODOT district manager. These projects are going to make a significant impact in traffic movement patterns in the Rogue Valley.

The six-month viaduct modernization will be the first of many projects that will upgrade the Interstate 5 corridor.

Vial said the viaduct isn't specifically designed to improve traffic flows, and motorists might be hard pressed to see the changes to the structure ' other than a new road surface and better guardrails.

The viaduct is one of many so-called preservation projects necessary to maintain aging roadways in the valley.

Other construction efforts, like the north and south Medford interchanges, are designed to improve traffic flows.

One project already completed is the Big X at the north interchange, which rerouted Highway 238 and improved traffic flows on Highways 99 and 62.

The big interchange renovations also will improve traffic flow by enlarging and redesigning feeder streets.

In the meantime, while these projects are underway, ODOT anticipates transportation bottlenecks that will inevitably frustrate drivers.

Those projects also come with a cost, said Vial. They will come with inconvenience.

While traffic flows should improve once finished, these projects won't be a panacea for all Jackson County's traffic woes.

Are they enough to deal with the transportation needs for the next 20 years? No, said Vial.

The north Medford interchange, while designed to improve traffic flow, won't help Crater Lake Highway east of Poplar Drive, where traffic frequently backs up.

Vial said there is currently no money budgeted to improve this busy section of Crater Lake.

Medford developer Mike Montero, who serves on the Rogue Valley Area Commission on Transportation, said Jackson County is running on the fumes of road projects dating back to the '50s.

In the meantime, the population has grown, and more traffic is using the interstate because of the shift from rail to truck to transport goods in the '50s and '60s.

Because the area doesn't have a mature transportation system, Montero said, most of the north/south traffic gravitates toward the interstate.

I think these large projects are catch-up from the past and hopefully for the future, he said. We need to look at these next few years as an investment.

A number of small projects that will be completed in the next five years will help connect the dots, Montero said, making it easier for motorists to get from one end of the valley to the other.

In the meantime, Jackson County residents will have to put up with extra congestion from time to time.

The next six months we're going to go through this angst of traffic, he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476, or e-mail ODOT plans work on major Jackson County thoroughfares During the next several years, the Oregon Department of Transportation will begin projects to improve Jackson County's major thoroughfares. This list doesn't include small projects or improvements made by cities or counties.

Large projects designed to preserve existing roadways by repaving or rehabilitating:

Medford viaduct

' starts and finishes in 2003 at a cost of &

36;8 million.

Highway 99, from Beall Lane in Central Point to Table Rock Road in Medford ' starts and finishes in 2003 at a cost of &

36;1.3 million.

Highway 99, from Stewart Avenue in Medford to Culver Road in Talent ' starts and finishes in 2004 at a cost of &

36;4 million.

Interstate 5, from Medford to Exit 19 in Ashland ' starts in 2005 and finishes in 2006 at a cost of &

36;16.7 million.

Highway 238, from Hanley Road to the Applegate ' starts and finishes in 2005 at a cost of &

36;3.9 million.

Large preservation projects in downtown areas throughout Jackson County will get new sidewalks, curbs and gutters as well as decorative street lighting and landscaping. They are:

Highway 238

in downtown Jacksonville ' starts in 2004 at a cost of &

36;3.5 million.

Highway 234

in downtown Gold Hill ' starts in 2004 at a cost of &

36;2.1 million.

Highway 99

in Phoenix ' starts in 2004 at a cost of &

36;1.3 million.

Highway 99

in Talent from Culver Road to Rapp Road ' starts in 2006 and finishes in 2007 at a cost of &

36;5.7 million.

ODOT also will modernize Interstate 5 interchanges to relieve congestion by adding lanes or new road alignments. The Big X in north Medford is an example of this kind of project that already has been completed. Future projects include:

Phoenix interchange

' started in 2002 and finishes in 2003 at a cost of &

36;2.5 million.

North Medford interchange '

starts in 2004 and finishes in 2007 at a cost of &

36;44 million.

South Medford interchange

' starts in 2005 and finishes in 2009 at a cost of &

36;54 million.

Phoenix interchange, phase 2

' starts in 2007 and finishes in 2009 at a cost of &

36;11.6 million.