Medford intersection work forces bridge closure

Munching on some french fries at the Dairy Queen Wednesday, Margaret Burns had ready advice for any motorist venturing into south Medford in the next six months.

"Don't come this way," said the 71-year-old east Medford resident, only half-jokingly.

Starting at 5 a.m. Friday, Barnett Road at Bear Creek will be closed for six months while crews demolish the old bridge and replace it with a $1.7 million structure that will include sidewalks and bike lanes.

During construction, access to the Dairy Queen, Black Bear Diner and four hotels will be carefully marked by signs, Oregon Department of Transportation officials said. Motorists will have to drive through a construction zone to access these businesses, which has raised concerns among the owners.

"The key for motorists to remember is this is a game-changer," said Gary Leaming, ODOT spokesman. "They won't be able to use Barnett as they have in the past."

Motorists who want to travel east or west in that area should use the new bridge at the south Medford interchange, which opens to traffic in all directions at 7 p.m. Thursday, he said.

Burns said her neighbors have indicated they will avoid the south end of town during the construction, which they fear will dump more traffic onto local streets as residents search for other ways across town.

"My concern is Highland Avenue," she said. "It's going to be so congested."

To access the four businesses on the west side of Bear Creek, motorists will travel eastbound down Barnett past Stewart Avenue, then take a left where the old northbound on-ramp existed. A short way down, they will make a right near the Bear Creek Little League fields, then another right onto Alba Drive to gain access to the businesses. They won't be able to use Alba Drive to get back onto Barnett, however.

On the other side of Bear Creek, businesses can access the Black Bear Diner or Best Western from Barnett, but this will require traveling through a construction zone.

Leaming said there will be plenty of large signs to help guide motorists. On Wednesday, Leaming delivered directional fliers to businesses that they could hand out to their customers.

"We're not just doing the work and walking away from our information duties that will allow people to get to those businesses," he said.

Still, some motorists will stay away from a construction zone, he said.

ODOT is hopeful that Wildish Standard Paving of Eugene can finish the work before the six-month deadline is up, even though the project started about a month behind schedule because of delays in getting a signal arm installed on the new interchange. A demolition team will come in Friday and work through Saturday. Wildish plans on running two shifts to speed up the work, he said.

"I think you will be amazed at how quickly things get going once the team works on demolition of the bridge," he said.

Leaming said he expected traffic conditions around the interchange and Barnett will improve once the work is completed.

"Six months from now, this will all be a distant memory," he said.

Darby Stricker, general manager of the Best Western Horizon Inn, said the hotel is prepared for the closure of Barnett and is looking forward to the complete opening of the interchange on Thursday.

"We will have unfettered access from Interstate 5," she said.

The hotel had been preparing for a downturn in business because of construction, but Stricker believes the economy has had a greater impact on sales.

Because of the preparations to attract tourists to the hotel during construction, Stricker said the inn has weathered the recession better than it would have otherwise. Statewide, tourism is down about 12 percent this year, she said.

Curt Moore, owner of the Black Bear, said there are many unknowns about how construction will affect his business, though he already has noticed a decline in customers since the work started.

"I've lived with barrels in front of me for two and a half years," he said. "All I can do is just wait and watch and hope they don't impede access to my business."

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or

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