Highway 62 traffic plans on fast track: alternatives considered for heavily congested road
September 19, 1999
By JIM DAVIS
A plan to relieve traffic on Highway 62 will start rolling this week when its concepts are put to computer testing.
Highway 62 is considered one of the most important roadways in the Rogue Valley as a link between Medford and White City, a route to Central and Eastern Oregon and a gateway to Crater Lake National Park, said Jim Hanks, a Eugene consultant working on the project.
“When you’re a tourist heading to Crater Lake, one of your first views of Oregon is off Highway 62,” Hanks said.
But the highway sees more than 37,100 cars and trucks per day, traffic that rivals and sometimes surpasses Interstate 5.
And traffic is expected to double on the highway in the next 20 years, Hanks said.
An Oregon Department of Transportation team came up with three general concepts to relieve the congestion.
Those ideas include building an expressway running parallel to the highway from Medford to White City, adding improvements to the existing highway such as overpasses at the busier intersections, or a combination of the two.
While the project is expected to cost more than $100 million, ODOT already has more than $22 million to begin the first leg, said Frank Stevens, an ODOT project manager.
“We are committed to begin construction by 2003,” Stevens said.
In the 1980s, Highway 62 ranked as one of the most dangerous highways in Oregon, Stevens said.
ODOT designated it a safety corridor and reduced the speed limit on stretches of it, reducing the number of accidents and fatalities.
But the road has seen an increasing number of cars and trucks using the highway on a daily basis, especially with the addition of big-box retail stores such as Wal-Mart and Costco. The number of cars traveling past Fred Meyer has increased from 13,600 a day in 1977 to nearly three times as much in recent traffic counts.
Many of the intersections along the road from Medford to White City are failing or beginning to fail, Stevens said.
State traffic engineers have predicted that in 20 years, 70,000 to 80,000 cars and trucks per day will be using Highway 62 between Medford and White City.
Last year, U.S. Rep. Bob Smith managed to funnel $22 million in federal and state funding to the project.
A Highway 62 solutions team of 17 community members with the help of ODOT traffic engineers is tackling the problem. The team is very similar to another team working to relieve congestion on the south Medford interchange.
The Highway 62 team is looking at three concepts.
The first concept is to improve Highway 62 as it exists now. That could include building frontage roads that run next to the highway for local traffic that is heading to Costco or other stores along the route, Stevens said.
It could also mean building overpasses at the busier intersections so that traffic heading east and west wouldn’t interfere with traffic moving north and south.
The second concept would be to build an expressway parallel to Highway 62.
The new highway would roughly follow the existing Medco Haul Road, an old logging road that ODOT acquired in 1996 from Medite, which closed its Medford lumber and plywood operations in the late 1980s and early 1990s and hadn’t used the road in recent years.
More than 280 vernal pools stand in the way, with sensitive species such as fairy shrimp and plant life.
“We believe that it’s possible to build a new alignment that does not conflict with the vernal pools,” Hanks said. “There may some plant species that we will have to mitigate, and that’s part of the analysis.”
The expressway could run from Table Rock Road across Interstate 5 all the way to White City.
The third option would incorporate features of the other two concepts. If this option is used, traffic engineers could build the expressway from Delta Waters Road north to White City as well as improving Highway 62.
Stevens said all of the concepts will include steps to increase bicycle and pedestrian traffic as well as encourage mass transit such as bus programs.
This week, state traffic engineers will begin running the initial concepts through a computer modeling system to predict the effect of each option on traffic counts. The initial numbers will come back within weeks. A draft plan will go to a public hearing next spring.
“Right now, we just have to find out how much benefit each (concept) has,” Hanks said.