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Want Home Depot' Fix the traffic first

Local editorial

The home improvement chain would be a welcome addition, but not yet

We hope Home Depot finds a suitable site soon in Jackson County. But we are convinced that, unless things change dramatically, a proposed location near the Phoenix freeway interchange is not the right site.

The home improvement giant, which has about 1,800 stores nationwide, has been seeking a home of its own ' or perhaps two ' in Jackson County for years. The store has reviewed a number of sites, but hadn't found one to suit its needs until the Phoenix property came up.

In a March 10 story earlier this year in the Mail Tribune, a store representative said the company has a few principal needs: a minimum of 10 acres, proper zoning and freeway accessibility. Invariably, he said then, siting a store comes down to two things: zoning and traffic.

And therein lies the problem. The first, zoning, could prevent the store from locating there, because the property is zoned for farm residential. But realistically, given its location at a busy interchange with a lot of commercial activity, the zoning seems less of a concern.

Traffic, however, is another story. Anyone who uses the Fern Valley Road interchange, especially if they are heading east on Fern Valley, knows that interchange is already a mess. A steady stream of long-haul trucks makes its way in and out of the Petro truck stop. Cars line up, heading for residential areas to the east and toward Medford homes to the north.

It's not hard to imagine what another several thousand cars a day would do to that interchange: It could become a traffic nightmare, perhaps to the point of jeopardizing existing businesses and residential developments.

— Are long-haul truckers likely to pull off at a spot where they are almost certain to encounter traffic snarls and delays? Do families want to live in an area in which they have to fight their way through a vehicular war zone every time they leave their driveway?

Backers of the Home Depot plan say the development would force the state to fix the interchange, but it's not clear when that would happen, or even if it would happen at all. Plans call for work at the interchange between 2008 and 2012, but the funding hasn't been set aside yet and the proposed improvements are aimed at the west side of the freeway. There is a lot of work to be done on both sides of the freeway, probably more than can reasonably be accomplished anytime in the near future.

Phoenix residents who think the state will simply come up with the money should perhaps look north to Medford, where the city had to put together a &

36;15 million package to entice the necessary state funding.

And there may be an unintended consequence lurking: Putting more traffic on North Phoenix Road, which runs in front of the proposed site, could stall Medford's Southeast Plan development, which fronts on the same road a few miles to the north.

The Southeast Plan is a complex residential and commercial development in southeast Medford that ultimately could include housing for 10,000 people. It has been praised as a development that would reduce traffic in the valley by creating denser, close-in and more self-sufficient neighborhoods.

It would be ironic if a proposal that does not adequately address traffic concerns served to stall a project that has earned praise for helping reduce traffic concerns.

Again, we hope Home Depot will find a spot here. By all accounts, it is a well-run business that treats its employees well and is popular with customers. It would be a good addition to the retail mix in the valley.

But that added value should not come at the expense of a transportation system that is already straining to keep up with the demand created by the Rogue Valley's growing population.