Paving of South Medford interchange will slow I-5 traffic

Traffic delays on Interstate 5 could confront motorists on their Monday commute when six weeks of paving work begins at the south Medford interchange.

The $5 million project will require shutting down one lane of freeway traffic in each direction from the viaduct to just south of the new interchange.

Gary Leaming, Oregon Department of Transportation spokesman, said Medford residents should avoid using the freeway to get across town during construction to help limit congestion. Motorists will thread their way through narrower lanes on the interstate bounded by concrete barriers to separate workers and equipment.

"The six-week time frame is going to be a mess," said Leaming.

ODOT isn't sure how bad the congestion will be since it is dependent on how many motorists avoid the freeway during construction. ODOT estimates that about half the traffic on the freeway through Medford is generated by short local trips. The Medford section generates an average 48,000 vehicle trips a day, the most of any section of Interstate 5 south of Eugene.

Crews working 22 hours a day will rip out old, cracked concrete in the slow lanes, then lay down a thick layer of rock. All four lanes will be topped with 9 inches of asphalt. Workers already are beefing up the shoulders along the interstate so traffic can be diverted.

As work begins on the three-quarter-mile stretch of freeway Monday, motorists also will notice more changes for the $70 million south Medford interchange.

The new southbound exit will open, offering limited access over the new overpass.

Southbound drivers will be able to either turn right onto Garfield Street toward Highway 99, or left over the overpass toward Highland Avenue and Barnett Road.

The northbound exit opened several months ago, but motorists could only turn right toward Highland. On Monday, northbound drivers also will be able to turn left over the overpass toward Garfield.

Because of the way traffic is being directed, Leaming said there will be no need for signals at this point. A concrete barrier will separate traffic flowing eastbound and westbound over the overpass.

On Tuesday, much of the asphalt had been laid on the new southbound exit and workers prepared to install barriers to guide motorists off the freeway.

Most of the interchange is now complete. The last major push is to get the northbound on-ramp finished.

When the interchange fully opens at the end of May, signals will coordinate the flow of traffic from the interstate. Motorists also will be able to drive over the overpass, providing another east-west connector in south Medford.

Once opened, what remains of the existing interchange at Barnett Road some 1,900 feet to the north will be closed. The bridge crossing the interstate will remain open, however. During the summer, work crews will grind away old concrete and lower the grade under the bridge to provide more height for trucks.

The final portion of the interchange project will require the bridge over Bear Creek to be rebuilt, closing that section of Barnett Road for six months.

The new interchange is the largest state highway project in the Rogue Valley since the interstate was built.

Cory Crebbin, Medford public works director, said he had no suggestions for routes that local people could take to avoid the freeway through Medford.

"The people in Medford know what the detour streets are," he said.

Crebbin said it may be misleading to suggest that local residents make up half the traffic on the freeway through the city.

He said many of the vehicles counted in the traffic study by ODOT could have been out-of-towners who exited at one interchange then jumped back on the freeway to reach the other side of town. According to the lingo used by traffic engineers, these are considered "local trips," Crebbin said. "I'm not convinced it is mostly local people doing that," he said.

Crebbin did agree, however, that if Medford residents stay off this section of the freeway for six weeks it could help alleviate some congestion.

Wildish Standard Paving of Eugene expects to complete the project by December, almost a year ahead of schedule.

"The contractor has been amazing," said Crebbin.

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