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South Medford interchange cost overruns 'shocking'

City and county officials worry that major road projects could be delayed by up to seven years to pay for a cost spike in the new south Medford interchange.

A lot of jurisdictions are anxious, Jackson County Commissioner Dave Gilmour told an Oregon Department of Transportation official Wednesday. Are they (the projects) going by the wayside?

Estimated at &

36;52 million just 18 months ago, the interchange's costs have climbed to &

36;70 million because of increased real estate prices, rising fuel costs and hikes in steel and concrete driven by demand from China, said Art Anderson, ODOT area manager.

The new interchange will be located about a quarter-mile south of the current Barnett Road interchange, which will be torn down.

Anderson stressed that the notion of siphoning off money from other projects is just part of the brainstorming that is going on as ODOT scrambles for ways to pay for the new interchange. That is a big if, he said.

— Statewide, ODOT has noticed escalating costs on other projects, he said.

One project that could be affected is a bypass route to relieve congestion on Highway 62. Anderson said ODOT would need approval from the Oregon Transportation Commission to shift any of &

36;38 million earmarked for this project over to the interchange.

Other projects that could be tapped include the &

36;2.1 million intersection of Kirtland and Blackwell roads as part of an improved Highway 140 connection; the &

36;1.5 million widening of Ross Lane; and the new &

36;3.5 million east-west route from east Medford to the shopping area along Highway 62.

In addition, ODOT is considering selling off seven to eight acres around the old interchange, which could raise as much as &

36;3 million to &

36;5 million.

Anderson said ODOT informally approached Medford officials for contributions beyond the &

36;15 million pledged to the interchange project. But he said the city appeared unwilling to provide more money.

Gilmour suggested ODOT consider scrapping the project entirely and building a new interchange at South Stage Road that would help relieve traffic congestion from the 10,000 new residents expected in southeast Medford.

Commissioner C.W. Smith expressed concern about the impact on other projects, adding, The jump in cost estimates was shocking.

Alan DeBoer, an alternate on the Rogue Valley Area Commission on Transportation and former Ashland mayor, said none of the local governments would have signed onto the interchange project if they had realized it was going to be &

36;70 million.

It was a hard sell at &

36;36 million, he said, recalling the initial estimate. No private industry could ever survive being 50 percent or 100 percent off depending on what way you want to look at it.

DeBoer said he thought the money would be better spent building an interchange at South Stage, partially because it would have less impact on businesses that would be disrupted by construction on the replacement for the Barnett interchange.

He said he, too, was concerned that escalating costs could jeopardize other projects in the works throughout the county.

Anderson said ODOT already has spent &

36;18 million on the new south Medford interchange, which includes right-of-way acquisition and environmental studies.

He defended the idea of building the interchange, saying it will help relieve congestion in an area that already has seen tremendous commercial growth in recent years.

This is something that is not just serving the city of Medford, but the whole region, he said.

ODOT plans to put the south interchange work out to bid in February or March 2006, and have it completed by the end of 2009 or beginning of 2010.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476, or e-mail South Medford interchange cost overruns ?shocking?"dmann@mailtribune.com.