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Speeds, road work delays stir worries along Talent's Highway 99

TALENT — Utility work above and under Highway 99 between Rapp and Creel roads has raised concerns about drivers speeding in the construction zone and uncertainties about when it might end. The four-lane road has been narrowed to two adjacent lanes at times, marked off by orange cones and posts.

Electronic display signs at both the south and north ends of the project list the start date as 8-31, but the end dates keep changing. On the Monday before Thanksgiving, an 11-24 date was listed, but on Saturday the signs showed 12-8.

“They keep changing the dates. They change it to the next week,” said Sue Butensky, co-owner of The Rock Shop on the east side of the highway near Creel. “It’s not telling us anything.”

Butensky said she had received initial indications that the utility work might only last a couple months. Shawn Thompson, a manager at Rogue Farmers, a hydroponic organic garden store at 1007 S. Pacific Highway, said his firm had also heard work would only take a couple months, but added that most such jobs take longer than planned.

Utility firms are relocating services before a repaving of the road this coming year. Avista, Pacific Power, Hunter Communication, Charter Communication and Rogue Valley Sanitary Services all have work in the area, said Oregon Department of Transportation spokesman Gary Leaming.

On Tuesday, a subcontractor doing gas line work for Avista was the only firm working in the area. Workers expressed concerns about traffic safety.

“They definitely don’t slow down,” one worker who declined to identify himself said about the drivers. Workers said they do see Talent police cars in the area, but not every day.

“It’s a congested area, and everyone isn’t used to one lane. That’s causing concerns,” said Talent Police Lt. Jennifer Snook. Officers are patrolling there, she said.

Both Buttensky and Thompson said they worry about traffic coming up from behind when they stop to make left turns to get to their work places.

“As far as speeding, you’ve got a work zone where fines could be doubled with enforcement,” said Leaming. “The city of Talent can enforce those laws at any time. An officer can double the fine per (Oregon Revised Statues).”

Thompson and Ryan Olson, another manager at Rogue Farmers, said drivers are going far too fast in the work area.

Talent officials are worried about increasing traffic danger as winter approaches with shorter days and rain, ice and snow likely, Community Development Director Zac Moody told the City Council Nov. 15. Moody said the city may talk with ODOT about lowering the speed limit in the construction zone. It remains at the currently-posted 45 mph despite the lane-narrowing.

Butensky said business appears to be about the same at The Rock Shop despite the work. Olson said business was down, especially when trucks blocked views of the company from the highway. But he added that contractors have been helpful in keeping access open.

Utilities have until March 1 to complete their projects. That’s when Knife River can begin work on rebuilding the road section. The roadway will be repaved, and curbs, gutters, sidewalks and bike lanes will be installed. The roadway will be reconfigured to two travel lanes with a center turn lane.

Knife River was awarded a $5.4 million contract that includes the Rapp-to-Creel work and repaving of Highway 99 from Creel Road to Valley View Road South just north of Ashland. After the highway repaving, the road will be restriped to offer two vehicle lanes with adjacent bike lanes and a center turn lane. A left turn lane will be created for northbound traffic at Talent Avenue. Work is expected to be completed Sept. 30.

ODOT and Knife River had planned to complete the work from Creel to Valley View this fall, but decided to delay to 2018 because Knife River was busy with other projects and ODOT personnel would have been hard-pressed to monitor the job because their workloads had increased, Leaming said.

Tony Boom is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com