Long-Awaited Oregon 62 Expressway Project Now Underway in Medford
After a planning process that spanned nearly two decades, the Oregon 62 Expressway is now well underway. Construction on the $120 million project finally began in mid-2016, and its second phase is scheduled to begin this spring. It is the largest transportation project in southern Oregon since Interstate 5 was completed in the early 1960s.
The multimodal, Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) project will increase capacity and improve safety along the Crater Lake Highway corridor, a critical business connection for freight, tourism and commuters coming through or into the city of Medford. At the project's completion, scheduled for 2018, through traffic will travel along a 4.5-mile, four-lane expressway on the east side of the Medford Airport. The expressway will cross over Vilas Road via an overpass, and connect to the existing Crater Lake Highway near Corey Road.
In addition to lessening traffic congestion on Oregon 62, the project will mean a more direct route home for residents of towns such as White City and Eagle Point, and when fully constructed, will save about seven minutes per one-way trip through the corridor, according to ODOT projections. The project also includes new sidewalks and transit-related enhancements along the existing Oregon 62 corridor.
The Expressway project addresses multiple needs in one of Oregon's busiest and rapidly growing areas, explains ODOT Public Information Officer Gary Leaming. "Medford a major retail center for southern Oregon, and also for northern California. Oregon 62 is a major route which connects with Interstate 5 in Medford; it's a route with a large volume of recreational, freight, and commuter traffic. There is heavy traffic from I-5 to White City, and nearly half the traffic is just trying to get through the corridor. This route has major congestion, and also significant crash problems."
Among the key element of this wide-raging project are the design and construction of 4.5 miles of roadway; a grade-separated interchange; seven separate retaining walls meant to reduce the project footprint and minimize right-of-way impacts; a pedestrian underpass to provide bike/pedestrian connectivity; illumination and signing; and storm water facilities for treatment and detention of storm water runoff.
Since the new expressway route will run adjacent to the Medford Airport, the project also includes design and construction of new access roads and security fencing within the airport boundaries, as well as design coordination with the airport and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to ensure compliance with runway protection zone restrictions.
Constructing Phase 1
The first phase of the project, with a cost of around $30 million, began construction in May, 2016. Primary contractor on the project is Knife River Materials of Central Point, Oregon. This phase, focused on the east side of I-5, included the widening and adding of lanes to allow traffic to be shifted away from a busy intersection.
Among other Phase 1 components were a new directional interchange at the south end; construction of a temporary, multi-use path, located on ODOT-owned property south of the existing sidewalk, to allow pedestrian access during the work - allowing the contractor to tear out the old south side curb line for construction of a third travel lane with new curbs, gutters and sidewalk.
Phase 1 also called for three traffic switches at Lone Pine Creek to accommodate the replacement of box culverts with new, fish-friendly passages.
While the new Expressway is under construction, much effort has been made to reducing the impact of traffic, reports ODOT Project Manager Tim Fletcher. "Our schedule is designed to reduce traffic impacts because the daily volumes on Oregon 62 are so high. Keeping traffic moving through the corridor and business accesses open are project priorities, and project staging is crucial. Much of the first phase was completed at night to reduce the construction impacts to traffic and businesses, and the contractor has been required to keep two lanes of Oregon 62 open in each direction from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Thursday and from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday through Sunday."
The Next Phase
The $21 million Phase 2 of the project was bid in December, and construction began last month. This phase will continue the roadway north to connect with the existing Oregon 62 corridor near Corey Road, south of White City. Part of this new route utilizes the path of the old Medco Haul Road, the remnant of a rail line which once ran to a lumber mill; later, this rail bed became a road for log-hauling trucks until the mill closed down. In recent years, the old haul road had been used informally as a bike path and walking trail, awaiting the start of the project.
Building the 4.5-mile expressway requires massive amounts of soil, concrete and steel. Leaming provides an example of the quantities: "For the section from Poplar Drive to Corey Road, 461,000 cubic yards of soil will be moved; that's enough to fill a football field 216 feet deep. There are 45,300 cubic yards of concrete in roadway - 25.7 lane miles, 12 feet wide. And there are 223 tons of two-inch steel rebar, 126.5 miles, enough to travel from Medford to Eugene."
Minimizing traffic impact and maintaining access to businesses along the route have provided their share of challenges, Leaming comments. Additionally, he reports, "We had a really wet fall and winter, so not as much work on Phase I was completed as we would have liked - although work is picking up now. Plus, we needed to rebuild two creek crossings, both of which are fish streams."
Reducing Crash Rates
Traffic safety has been a major concern along the corridor for years. As ODOT spokespersons point out, Oregon 62 has exceeded its capacity standards, and future growth in the area is expected to significantly increase traffic; moreover, several intersections along the Oregon 62 corridor have higher than normal crash rates. In addition to reducing congestion and improving traffic flow, addressing the safety issues is a major factor in the design of the new expressway.
"The safety concern is higher crash rates at corridor intersections, especially from I-5 to Delta Waters Road," says Leaming. "The busiest intersection in the Rogue Valley is Oregon 62 and Delta Waters Road. It has traffic numbers higher than those along I-5 north of Medford."
Fletcher reports that several left turns have been eliminated along the Crater Lake Highway as part of the effort to improve safety and reduce the crash rate, including westbound left turns removed during Phase 1 in preparation for the box culvert replacements.
Another significant aspect of the new route will be the use of signal prioritization - which will allow bus drivers, when running behind due to congestion, to change upcoming traffic signals to the green phase, thus putting them back on schedule and reducing time the bus sits in traffic. "This will help transit deliver services on time, and Rogue Valley Transportation District officials were at the table during the planning stage," says Leaming.
Following the completion of these two phases, depending upon the availability of funding, other improvements may follow. Leaming says there is still heavy congestion at other interchanges at the south end of the project; work at these areas would involve the construction of several bridges. For transit riders, another major advantage from the new expressway could be a Bus Rapid Transit route from a park-and-ride in the White City area to or near downtown Medford, a plan that is currently under consideration.
It has taken over 20 years for the Oregon 62 Expressway project to come to fruition, and drivers and businesses along the route are currently suffering some short-term pain. In the near future, however, this heavily traveled corridor should become a model for improved traffic flow and greatly enhanced traffic safety.