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Interstate 5 viaduct work will disrupt Medford traffic

But state and local officials are trying to make things as easy as possible on freeway motorists and downtown residents and businesses

In eight days the &

36;8 million Interstate 5 viaduct project begins, and those affected won't just be freeway travelers.

Medford Public Works Department is advising area drivers, even those not using I-5, to plan for delays after the Oregon Department of Transportation project begins Jan. 6.

I'm anticipating that there's going to be through traffic on (city) streets, said Public Works Director Cory Crebbin.

Crebbin expects out-of-town drivers will get lost in Medford's maze of streets when they try to avoid backed-up traffic on the freeway during the next six months. He also anticipates more drivers will take the Phoenix and Central Point exits to bypass the viaduct, and they may not know their way around so well.

I'm anticipating some traffic snafus as people make wrong turns in Medford, he said.

The January to June project to upgrade the 3,222-foot-long elevated highway that spans central Medford involves removing and replacing the concrete deck, modifying the guardrails, building seismic reinforcement underneath the structure and protecting the piers from erosion in case of floods.

The project is being funded by federal highway dollars and state gas tax money.

Traffic will be reduced to one lane in each direction. The southbound on-ramp at the north Medford interchange, near Red Lobster, will be closed, as will the northbound on-ramp at the south Medford interchange, near Dairy Queen. The loop on-ramps at both ends of the viaduct will remain open, however.

Gary Leaming, ODOT project information specialist, said that while backups could be as long as two miles in both directions during peak hours, he doesn't anticipate long traffic delays.

For the most part, traffic will keep moving, albeit slowly sometimes, he said.

He said truck drivers are not being rerouted through the city, but he imagines some will opt to change their routes and use roads such as Highway 97.

The truckers clear down to L.A. know about it, he said.

Even wide loads have been taken into consideration.

The wide loads travel by a special permit, and we know about them, and they'll only be allowed to go between midnight and 4 a.m., he said.

He said ODOT recommends local traffic use alternate city routes, and the contractor, Wildish Standard Paving of Eugene, will put up signs to direct those who want to find their way back to the freeway.

Crebbin said that because Medford's street system lacks connectivity, there aren't a lot of options for traveling north-south if drivers are trying to avoid the viaduct.

My hope is that through-traffic will stay on the viaduct, he said.

Public works staff anticipate congestion to turn up at the same places it does now, such as the Crater Lake Avenue/McAndrews Road and the Delta Waters Road/Highway 62 intersections.

Depending on where congestion develops, public works may be able to slightly adjust the timing of traffic lights to help keep vehicles moving.

We're going to have to wait and see what traffic does before we adjust signals, Crebbin said.

Besides traffic, noise will be a concern during the project that will continue 24 hours a day, seven days a week. ODOT will monitor the noise level at night. It has set a nighttime (10 p.m. to 7 a.m.) limit of 88 decibels, which is about the level truck traffic produces. There is no limit set for daytime noise levels.

The loudest machine will be the hydromill, which is like a large pressure washer, used to take the old concrete off the deck.

The Red Lion Hotel on North Riverside has rooms just at the edge of the viaduct.

General Manager Don Anway said that when he learned about the project a year ago, he was concerned about its effect on his business. But he's been impressed with how much ODOT crews have worked to minimize the negative impact.

They came and they did sound tests in our rooms, said Anway.

He said he will be notified when ODOT crews start working on the section nearest his hotel so he can rent out rooms at the quiet end of the building during that time.

To me, they've done a great job, Anway said.

Crebbin said his best advice for Medford drivers is to have a patient attitude through June.

Try to extend the holiday spirit, he said.

For information about the project, including regularly updated viaduct traffic photos, visit the Web.

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Traffic flows to and from the Interstate 5 viaduct looking south from Highway 62 in this time-exposure photograph. A rehabilitation of the viaduct starting Jan. 6 will close one lane of traffic in each direction. Mail Tribune / Jim Craven - Mail Tribune Jim Craven