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Road work ahead

As we sit in traffic, from now till June, remember ' viaduct project is needed

Let the deep-breathing exercises begin. Work starts next week on a six-month project to rework the Medford freeway viaduct; and now, before traffic and drivers both turn ugly, is the time to remember this is actually a good thing.

The &

36;8 million project will resurface the freeway viaduct, the elevated portion of Interstate-5 over the center of Medford, and give it stronger sides and earthquake-resistant footings.

It probably won't be anyone's idea of fun. Work will take place 24 hours a day, seven days a week. One lane of traffic will be closed each direction, and state road officials expect freeway backups of up to two miles during busy periods. They predict as many as 20,000 drivers daily will flee Interstate 5 for Medford, making messes of city streets as well.

And they won't be gone until June.

If that's not bad enough, consider such a project's likely effect on early season tourism. Or how idling cars affect air quality levels, or the noise bound to come from work that involves removing a road's surface.

On the other hand, it beats the alternative.

Like many Oregon bridges, the 3,222-foot-long '50s-era viaduct is cracked. It needs work to remain safe for the people who drive it or live and work under it. This beefing-up project will make Medford less likely to endure a viaduct-related catastrophe.

That's important, because despite periodic wishful thinking to the contrary, the freeway is very likely to stay perched directly over downtown. Building freeway bypass roads to the east or to the west of town would take a level of agreement and coordination that's just not in the cards so far.

The oft-maligned Oregon Department of Transportation has, in this case, bent over backward to make the project as quick and painless as possible, cutting the initial timeline from 18 months and working hard to make the public aware of the project and the problems it will cause.

At a time when Oregon has hundreds of bridges in serious need of repair and little money to do any of the work, Medford is fortunate to have made the list.

It may not feel that way come next week, when the long countdown to the June finish begins. It may not feel that way when noise from the work penetrates a quiet night or if you find yourself at the back of that 2-mile-long line of traffic.

So take a deep breath now and try to remember later that there is a reason for all the chaos: a stronger, safer viaduct.

Get involved

If you really want to help your fellow citizens get involved in government, you might consider seeking a position on the state Citizen Involvement Advisory Committee.

The state Land Conservation and Development Committee has two vacancies on the CIAC for congressional districts 2 and 4. Appointees must reside in the Oregon congressional district for which they've applied.

District 2 is served by Rep. Greg Walden and in general includes Eastern Oregon and most of Southern Oregon. District 4 is served by Rep. Peter Defazio and includes part of Southern Oregon.

The CIAC advises the LCDC and local governments on citizen involvement policy. It does not set policy or review local planning actions.

The committee has eight volunteer members, one from each of of Oregon's five congressional districts and three chosen at large.

Completed applications must be received by Jan. 17. For application materials contact John Mills at 1-503-373-0050, extension 268, or by e-mail at johnmills@state.or.us.