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Medford-Jacksonville bike path becomes part of larger effort

A Jacksonville effort to create a path along the route of a railroad that once ran to Medford has become part of a larger, countywide planning process involving biking, walking, skateboarding and other self-propelled transit.

In April 2013, Jacksonville City Council approved $8,250 as a match for a $75,000 grant to study the idea. But as others in the region learned of the proposal and considered their own efforts for similar connections, a combined approach was developed by Jackson County and local municipalities.

Rogue Valley Metropolitan Planning Organization awarded Jackson County a $179,460 grant of federal Surface Transportation Program money this spring for planning.

“We’ll develop a binder full of plans that will be used to shop around for federal and state grants,” said Jacksonville Councilman Criss Garica, who proposed the five-mile long project to the council.

“We are going to be looking at the connecting of destinations. Clearly the connection between Medford and Jacksonville is a key one,” said Jenna Stanke, county bicycle and pedestrian program manager, who will lead what’s called the Regional Active Transportation Plan.

Eagle Point and White City to Medford pathways will also be researched, along with connections to other communities and within them, said Stanke. The Bear Creek Greenway, which now runs 20 miles from Ashland to Central Point, will be a spine for links.

“It made more sense to look at projects throughout the region as well as extending the Bear Creek Greenway,” said Stanke, who wrote the grant. Jacksonville had completed a pre-application for the grant it considered.

More than one-fourth of all trips are less than a mile and could easily be walked in 20 minutes, while nearly one-half of all trips are shorter than three miles, an easy 20-minute bike ride, Stanke said, but 78 percent of these trips are now made by car.

A network of safe, comfortable and convenient facilities that connect people is a goal of the plan.

“It’s also looking at what each community is doing with their own bicycle and pedestrian plans and how best to work together for the best product,” said Stanke.

Oregon Department of Transportation will pay half of a $20,540 match, with cities, the county and Rogue Valley Transit District funding the rest. The funds will be available at the start of the federal fiscal year on Oct., 15, 2015.

“In the meantime we’ll be thinking about how to approach the planning,” said Stanke. A consultant will be hired for planning according to the grant application.

Both a policy committee and technical committees will be established, said Stanke. Garcia hopes to be appointed to serve on one of the groups.

Links to other forms of transit, barriers to connection and low-stress bike options away from motorized traffic will be investigated.

“The county hasn’t always been flush with funds,” said Garcia. “This is a well needed boost to plan for the future.”

Garcia said the plan should allow determination of how much old railroad line right of way may still exist. The line was created in 1891 but ceased operation in 1925.

“They’ll have the time to really study potential routes and provide a recommendation as to what the best routes will be,” said Garcia.