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Preliminary work under way for Coleman Creek bridge

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A bridge to be built over Coleman Creek on Highway 99 in north Phoenix will allow better passage for fish headed upstream and for pedestrians and cyclists who will gain their own travel lanes. Main construction should start in early 2022, but contractors have already been working in the area to move utilities.

Money from a state fish passage fund will pay for the bulk of the work, which will replace an undersized culvert that is an impediment to fish travel. In high water situations water shooting from the culvert can cause erosion downstream.

“There’s so many benefits from turning the culvert into a bridge from the flooding standpoint, the fish standpoint and more connectivity for biking and pedestrians,” said Oregon Department of Transportation spokesman Gary Leaming.

Bids for the project will be due Sept. 23. Estimates placed costs at $5.7 million as of December 2019. So far $810,000 has been spent to obtain rights of way and $950,000 for engineering.

Many motorists are probably unaware they are driving over Coleman Creek where the culvert runs under the roadway about 500 feet north of the North Phoenix Road intersection on Highway 99. The site is within city limits. The current roadway lacks sidewalks and bike lanes.

When finished, the bridge project will span 84 feet. That will include two 5-foot-wide bike lanes, two seven-foot-wide sidewalks, a 12-foot center turn lane and four 11-foot vehicle travel lanes. Current roadway width is 63.5 feet.

Some traffic slowdowns have already occurred as the result of work to move utilities. Once bridge construction starts, traffic will be cut down from two lanes to one lane in both directions as first one half of the bridge is built, then the second half is completed.

Utilities that have completed work so far include Avista, Charter Communications, Hunter Communications and Pacific Power. Work yet to be completed or started includes that for Century Link, Charlotte Ann Water District and the TAP water line that carry Medford Water Commission water to the cities of Phoenix, Talent and Ashland.

Approval for work on the TAP line was given by Talent City Council Wednesday evening. Talent is overseeing the work for all three municipalities. Central Pipeline Construction was the successful bidder for the project at $321,440. The work needs to be finished by end of October and will involve moving the line from its current location to a new one that will run underneath the creek bed.

“The utility work is always the vanguard of any construction project,” said Leaming. “They live in the public right of way, but when we have a project they have to be moved of out of the way,” said Leaming.

The current culvert has a drop that hinders small fish from migrating to spawning beds higher in the watershed.

“Coleman Creek is one of the larger tributaries of Bear Creek,” aid Rogue District fish biologist Dan Van Dyke. “Cutthroat trout are native to Coleman Creek, but the dominant fish species is summer steelhead.”

Coleman Creek provides more than four miles of habitat, but the culvert is less than a half-mile upstream from Bear Creek. Summer steelhead migrate downstream in spring to Bear Creek and into the Rogue River, before entering the Pacific Ocean at Gold Beach. About two years later they return to spawn as three-to-five-pound adults.

A future project just north of the bridge will improve travel along the highway for cyclists and pedestrians.

ODOT is in the planning stages for the widening project, most of which is outside Phoenix city limits. The project will be constructed in 2024. The agency already has $15 million in funding designated for right of way purchase, design and construction.

“From the transportation point of view, we’ll have additional sidewalks and bike lanes in an area that is very substandard in terms of sidewalks,” said Leaming. “Lots of kids have to take the bus (to school) because there’s no safe way to walk on the highway.”

The improvements will run from Coleman Creek to Glenwood Road. Many homes and businesses in the area were destroyed by the Almeda fire. Signed crosswalks with flashing lights will also be installed to aid pedestrians crossing the highway.

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