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Hwy. 62 fixup possible

A &

36;2.5 billion bonding program for Oregon roads and bridges includes bucks for 62

and MEG LANDERS

of the Mail Tribune

SALEM ' A stalled plan to improve Highway 62 could be back on track, thanks to &

36;180 million included for the road in a legislative bill.

The House Revenue Committee is expected to approve a &

36;2.5 billion bonding program today to finance the largest bridge and highway program since the completion of Oregon's interstate system.

The 10-year project includes &

36;1.3 billion to replace deteriorating bridges on the interstate network and state highways, including &

36;193 million for bridges in Josephine and Jackson counties.

The financial package also includes &

36;500 million for state highway upgrades, among them improving Highway 62 from the North Medford interchange with Interstate 5 to East Vilas Road.

— The work could be used to modernize the congested highway from the interchange to Delta Waters Road, then possibly realign it from there to Vilas.

Our thinking now is that we will upgrade a portion of the route, then look at our options for the rest of it, including a realignment, said Paul Mather, Roseburg, Southwest Oregon manager for the Oregon Department of Transportation.

The availability of funding could revive another option, said Art Anderson, ODOT area manager for Jackson and Josephine counties.

Area residents and agencies have explored numerous solutions for Highway 62, and one of the favorites is to build an expressway northwest of and parallel to Highway 62. The expressway would cost an estimated &

36;130 million as proposed and run about from Whittle Avenue to near Corey Road, much of it following the old Medco mill haul road.

Anderson estimated ODOT could be turning dirt on whichever project is chosen by early 2008.

Mather said new homes and businesses in the north Medford area plus heavy truck traffic led ODOT to include the project on a list of statewide priorities.

Motorists now make 40,000 daily trips on Highway 62 ' which is at or exceeds the state's maximum traffic limit ' and studies estimate the number will be at 70,000 in 20 years.

While the project must compete with seven other highway projects for funding, officials were optimistic it would make the cut.

I think the Highway 62 corridor will compete very well, said Mather, adding the project would be eligible for funding from another pot of money set aside in a freight mobility account.

The bridge package would go to fix about 48 bridges on Interstate 5 and Highway 199 in Jackson and Josephine counties, Anderson said.

He said he thinks about 80 percent of the bridges would be replaced and 20 percent repaired.

He called the recommendation a great thing for all of Oregon.

Not only does it take care of major transportation routes, he said, but it's putting dollars into construction jobs.

The governor's strategy, I think, is a great strategy, he said. The construction project was promoted by Gov. Ted Kulongoski.

Debt service on the bonds would be financed with increases in vehicle registration and title fees, and a hike in trucker weight-mile taxes. Registration fees would increase from &

36;30 to &

36;54 every two years and title fees from &

36;30 to &

36;55. That generates about &

36;114 million annually.

Backers tout the measure as a jobs bill, creating an estimated 4,750 family-wage jobs each year over the next 10 years ' including 700 in Jackson and Josephine counties.

The plan, agreed to after months of negotiations involving legislators and the many interest groups concerned about transportation, now goes to the floor where it is expected to pass.

Sen. Rick Metsger, D-Welches, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, said he will expedite the legislation. I don't anticipate many changes in the Senate, if any, he said.

Don Jepsen is a free-lance writer living in Salem. Meg Landers is a Mail Tribune reporter. Reach her at 776-4481 or .