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Gas tax hike eyed for road projects

Medford City Council agreed Thursday to continue studying increases to the gas tax and other fees to close a $72 million gap to help build what’s known as the mega corridor project.

“We probably want to pursue all options at this point,” Councilor Tim D’Alessandro said. “We should leave everything on the table at this moment.”

The city, which is only studying its options at this point, is looking at building a South Stage Road overpass across Interstate 5, along with widening Foothill and North Phoenix roads to help attract development and new industry in south Medford and in Phoenix.

“We have a $72 million funding gap on these projects,” Karl MacNair, Medford transportation manager, told the council Thursday.

The recommendations are for a 4-cent increase in gas taxes over 20 years, which would require voter approval. This would raise an estimated $34.4 million.

An increase of $1,000 for new construction fees would bring $16 million over 20 years, amounting to a 10% increase in system development charges, or the fees for new construction.

A 65-cent increase in street utility fees would bring in another $13 million.

The city is looking at partnering with Phoenix and possibly Jackson County to help fund the project as well. Other possible sources include federal or state grants.

An overpass at South Stage Road that would connect east and west Medford has been planned for years.

Kelly Madding, deputy city manager, said the Oregon Department of Transportation has begun an analysis to see if a justification could be made to create an interchange rather than an overpass, opening the door to federal and state transportation dollars.

To justify the interchange, ODOT would need to be able to show that it would take sufficient traffic off of other interchanges, including those in Phoenix and south Medford.

City officials said it would take considerable time to make the case to Medford voters.

“We would need 18 months of campaigning before putting it on the ballot,” said Brian Sjothun, city manager.

Councilor Kevin Stine said residents would need time to understand what is being proposed and how it would benefit them.

“The big issue is explaining what this is,” he said.

Medford Mayor Randy Sparacino said the South Stage overpass would also benefit west Medford, which is expected to have up to 300 new homes in the near future.

Portions of the mega corridor project have already been built, and transportation officials hope it will ultimately create an alternative route to Interstate 5 along North Phoenix and Foothill roads, connecting White City to Phoenix.

In Medford the corridor would have four lanes, and is part of a long-range plan to provide a thoroughfare to handle additional traffic from the developments planned in east Medford and Phoenix, including potentially a commercial and light industrial center to the south of the Rogue Valley Manor.

The estimate to complete all the projects in 2018 dollars is $106 million, of which $18.5 million has already been sourced.

A $15.5 million federal grant is also available.

Reach freelance writer Damian Mann at dmannnews@gmail.com.