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New freeway is a time machine

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Commuters could shave five minutes off their travel time when Southern Oregon’s newest freeway opens Wednesday morning.

After three years of work, the 4.5-mile Rogue Valley Expressway will relieve traffic on the busiest city street in Jackson County, Highway 62 through Medford.

Motorists need to be aware that once you get on the bypass, either near Corey Road in White City or by Poplar Drive in Medford, they won’t be able to get off until they get to the end.

The four-lane highway will have a 55 mph speed limit, and motorists should pay attention during the first few days for drivers who might be confused or disoriented, particularly where the new roadway intersects with existing Highway 62.

“Drivers need to be aware and awake when they’re trying this out,” said Gary Leaming, spokesman for the Oregon Department of Transportation. ODOT will have signs that will help guide motorists on and off the new freeway.

On Friday, a painting crew applied stripes to the roadway, and a signal crew will arrive Tuesday to dial in the traffic lights at Corey Road.

Leaming said he’s tested how long it takes to travel from Agate Road to Corey Road on both the Expressway and on existing Highway 62.

Depending on the time of day, he said it took four to five minutes less to traverse the same distance on the expressway.

Thirty percent of the traffic on Highway 62, which has 30,000 vehicle trips a day, is expected to move over to the expressway. That adds up to 750 hours a day of travel time saved each day for the roughly 9,000 vehicles that use the new freeway.

How much time you cut off your commute time will depend on how backed-up the existing road becomes — and the existing highway does get backed up.

Motorists on the expressway will bypass four traffic lights and lots of congestion, including at Delta Waters Road, where cars on Highway 62 are sometimes backed up for almost a mile.

Highway 62 through Medford has a higher-than-average number of car crashes, so the new freeway should reduce accidents considerably, according to ODOT.

Trucking companies are looking forward to a safer and quicker path for their drivers to negotiate through Medford as they head to and from Interstate 5.

ODOT had hoped to open the new freeway by February, but weather and other delays helped push the deadline forward. After meeting with Medford fire officials, ODOT has added more emergency entrances and exits to deal with accidents or other problems on the expressway.

Leaming said his prediction that the freeway will open Wednesday morning depends on signal and striping work going smoothly.

Knife River Materials is the contractor for the $120 million project, which will have two travel lanes in each direction and includes a bridge over Vilas Road. The 2009 Oregon Legislature approved the Jobs and Transportation Act providing $100 million for the freeway.

Knife River broke ground on the project in 2016.

Long-range plans call for extending the freeway to connect with Interstate 5 and also to lengthen it to Eagle Point. To complete the entire corridor, ODOT estimated it would cost more than $400 million.

Facts about the project include:

461,000 cubic yards of soil were moved, enough to fill a football field 216 feet deep.

45,300 cubic yards of concrete are in roadway and 223 tons of two-inch steel rebar, or 126.5 miles of steel, enough to travel from Medford to Eugene.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.

Jamie Lusch / mail Tribune The finishing touches are put on the Highway 62 bypass that will be opening next week.