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Soda Mountain Road closure begins July 6

Courtesy photo | Contractors will replace culverts and add gravel to bring Soda Mountain Road up to standards set by the Bureau of Land Management starting July 6.

Road work is slated to begin Tuesday on Soda Mountain Road in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument.

Contractors will replace culverts and add gravel to bring the road up to standards set by the Bureau of Land Management, said Kyle Sullivan, BLM Medford District Office public affairs specialist.

Soda Mountain Road will be closed Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for three to four weeks starting July 6. No alternate route is available.

The project is a source of concern for nearby residents living along the one-way-in, one-way-out roadway in the midst of a fire season.

Five properties host 20 residents within the monument, according to 15-year Greensprings resident Jonathan Paul, whose property connects to Soda Mountain Road. Locals would rather see the work done in the fall, he said.

“Our biggest concern is fire danger,” Paul said. “[Road closure] is a huge concern for us as our only escape route from a fire will be blocked. … When it comes to evacuation from a fire, minutes and even seconds count.”

Paul, co-owner of a wildland fire engine company, said he is also concerned about equipment striking rocks and sparking fire on the project site.

Sullivan said scheduling the project proved challenging.

“We’ve been trying our best to communicate with the residents and have been working with the contractor to find opportunities to allow maximum ingress and egress from residential properties during the construction project,” Sullivan said.

The project cost is $446,856.

“We have been requesting funding for this project for several years, and just received funding,” Sullivan said. “At this point, the road is to bare earth and needs this work to improve drainage and provide a road surface that can be maintained regularly.”

In the event of a fire or other emergency scenario, contractors can quickly reopen the road to evacuate, Sullivan said. Crews will bring firefighting equipment and a large water tanker to the job site, and BLM fire management officials will conduct regular safety inspections of operations.

Fire is unlikely to start from this type of work, and contractors will perform a fire watch for at least one hour at the end of each work day, he said.

Cutting, sawing or welding culverts will not be permitted on the job site. Weather condition thresholds have been set to shut down work when needed, and additional fire suppression resources are available if necessary, he said.

Sullivan said the project was postponed last fall — due to heavy smoke and the annual Oct. 15 wet-weather work shutdown date — and rescheduled based on the availability of culverts this June. The annual shutdown period lasts through June 15 to lessen sedimentation in waterways from work activities, he said.

“We have a small window of opportunity to complete road work,” Sullivan said. “Given supply chain issues, this was the earliest we could complete the work this year. We don’t want to delay further and risk not completing the work this season.”

The culverts addressed in this project are long overdue for replacement — their typical lifespan is about 30 years, Sullivan said. Regular maintenance efforts can damage culverts over time.

The new culverts were fabricated in the U.S., he said.

“One of the reasons this road resurfacing is necessary arises from snow plowing too close to the road surface during the winter, scraping rock off the road and into the ditches,” Sullivan said.

Residents are encouraged to keep snow plow blades at minimum four inches above the ground to protect the roadway, he said.

Paul said road maintenance has been neglected on Soda Mountain Road for the past decade and potholes worsen each year, leading drivers to skirt them and cause drainage issues by widening the road and filling in ditches.

More information about preparing for fire season in the wildland urban interface can be found at www.ready.gov/wildfires.

Contact Ashland Tidings reporter Allayana Darrow at adarrow@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497.