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Highway 62 bypass delayed again

Construction of Jackson County’s massive $120 million Highway 62 bypass won’t start until next spring, about a year later than originally anticipated.

“If we keep getting delayed, my fear is prices are going to start going up,” said Art Anderson, regional director with the Oregon Department of Transportation. “We are riding a really long streak of luck on this regarding costs.”

ODOT had hoped to accept bids on the project last spring, and then it pushed the date out to October.

“We have missed all those dates,” Anderson said. “We would have liked to have gotten started on this thing sooner.”

Now ODOT is looking at receiving bids sometime next February, with work starting next May.

The biggest issue to resolve is the Federal Aviation Administration's concern about an expanded “runway protection zone,” which is a restricted area near the airport that encompasses the former Butler Ford on Crater Lake Highway.

When the bypass was first discussed, the protection zone wasn’t as big as it is now. The zone pushes almost to Texas Roadhouse and Sportsman’s Warehouse.

The four-lane freeway will roughly follow the old Medco Haul Road and will relieve congestion on Highway 62, where traffic rivals that of Interstate 5. ODOT eventually plans to build a seven-mile bypass from Interstate 5 to past White City.

With only $120 million of the $440 million needed for the entire freeway in its coffers, ODOT will build just the first four miles, starting near Sportsman's Warehouse, crossing over Vilas Road and ending at Corey Road, just south of White City.

Construction costs have increased throughout the state, and Anderson said he doesn’t want to delay the project any further or risk seeing bids come in far higher than estimates.

Anderson said he thinks he can get FAA approval in time for next February but worries that any additional delays could push the project off to the spring of 2017.

He said ODOT estimates the project should still fall within its budget.

“We’re just slightly under,” he said. “But in this environment, we don’t know.”

The city of Medford recently encountered cost overruns that pushed up the price tag for a new police headquarters and three new fire stations by $6 million. As a result, the city is now looking at dropping one of the fire stations.

Medford Councilor Dick Gordon said he was aware of the FAA situation but had received assurances several months ago that it was going to be resolved soon.

"I'm very surprised," he said. "The bigger question is why they (the FAA) haven't signed on the dotted line."

Anderson said he hopes to get a more favorable bidding climate during the winter months when construction companies slow down and are looking ahead for new projects.

He said if the contractor can’t start on the bypass in May it could cause additional delays and might require additional expenses from ODOT.

The contractor has to work in and around two creeks — Lone Pine and Upton — but state law allows the work to take place only during the summer months. The work to install culverts for the creeks is key to building an extensive bridge connection off Highway 62 near Sportsman’s Warehouse.

Anderson said ODOT could stage the project differently, but that could also create additional design costs.

For now, he expects to get all the approvals in hand to bid out the project for next year.

“I’m optimistic, but you always got to worry,” Anderson said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at @reporterdm.