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A bridge too many

Medford's Barnett Street bridge is the second to have weight restrictions imposed, forcing heavy vehicles into residential areas

For Jim Wallace, rerouted school buses and trucks down Siskiyou Boulevard and Highland Drive would be more than his neighborhood could take.

We have quite a few school buses coming up this road already, said the Siskiyou Boulevard resident.

The traffic on Siskiyou is already an irritation, he said.

But that minor irritation is about to grow into a major headache if the state transportation agency recommends a six-ton load limit, including school buses, on the cracked Barnett Road bridge over Bear Creek.

— It's the second cracked Medford bridge to have load limits imposed, meaning nearly 2,800 displaced trucks each day will have to rely on Cottage, Jackson, Fourth, Eighth and 10th streets as well as Crater Lake Highway to cross Bear Creek. The next closest crossing to the south is the Fern Valley interchange in Phoenix.

That means bigger vehicles and more traffic in Medford's residential areas.

This whole east side here is dependent on about four roads that cross the creek here, said Wallace, adding that he's worried about the safety of those who use the winding road to access Bear Creek Park.

We have this park here and the kids are coming in and they're crossing Siskiyou where there is no light or crosswalk, he said.

While the city has not received the official report from the Oregon Department of Transportation, Medford's public works department learned this week that the state bridge engineer changed his mind about letting the Barnett bridge ride out the rest of its life, which he had thought was just a couple years. But with the south Medford interchange project schedule, the bridge replacement is planned for 2007 or 2008 ' and ODOT told the city that's too long.

This news comes on the heels of the city learning earlier this month of the similar danger of cracks in the McAndrews Road bridge over Bear Creek.

Medford was about to post signs for six-ton restrictions on the McAndrews bridge, when public works decided they needed clarification on the language in the engineer's report.

I think it was ODOT's intention to not include single-axle (trucks), said Beskow. Trucks with a single rear axle include school buses, emergency vehicles such as ambulances and fire engines, and garbage trucks.

Mike Robinson, manager of Medford School District's bus service, said he learned school buses were prohibited from the McAndrews bridge Monday, and he rerouted buses Tuesday morning. The city, however, requested an exemption for school buses on Tuesday, so until word comes back from the state, school buses have resumed their regular routes.

If the state doesn't support the exemption, 24 bus routes as well as 15 special education buses will be rerouted to Jackson Street, about 1.5 miles to the north, said Robinson.

Parents would need to be aware that times could be affected on some of the routes, he said.

He said that while bus routes are often rerouted for construction projects, those just last for a few days, not years.

School buses weigh between 33,000 and 50,000 pounds when empty, he said.

Beskow said that while they hope to have funding in place as early as 2004, realistically, the &

36;8 million bridge replacement is still four to five years out.

Public Works Director Cory Crebbin said residents will feel the impact of the added truck traffic from the two bridge restrictions, even with single-axle vehicle exemptions.

If you get three trucks a day on your street, and now you get 30 trucks a day on your street, you are going to feel like they're all using your street, he said.

He said even though it's bad timing to have two major truck routes eliminated at the same time, it could be worse.

With the recent passing of the &

36;300 million Oregon Transportation Investment Act, money is set aside to replace and repair local bridges throughout the state.

The Legislature just passed OTIA III, he said. That is a hugely lucky break, because it (bridge replacement) could have been a lot longer.

Just a couple of weeks after announcing severe load restrictions on the McAndrews Road bridge over Bear Creek, the state informed Medford officials that similar restrictions are needed on the Barnett Road bridge over the creek. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell - Mail Tribune Bob Pennell