Businesses could fall if freeway exit is realigned: Fixup of Highway 62 depends on I-5 changes
July 25, 2000
By DANI DODGE
Three businesses will be bulldozed and others will lose their access to Highway 62 if the Oregon Department of Transportation’s proposed realignment of the north Medford Interstate 5 interchange is approved.
“It’s virtually impossible not to have some impact on businesses if we are to improve the transportation situation,” said Gary Shaff, senior planner for JRH transportation engineering of Medford, the Highway 62 traffic engineers. “In an urban area, it’s just the reality.”
For safety and economic reasons, the state already has designated Highway 62 — from Delta Waters Road to Highway 140 — as an expressway: a piece of road that has few, if any, private driveways.
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.
The Oregon Department of Transportation is considering several options for realigning the stretch of Highway 62 from I-5 to White City. It could follow its current route; it could take new route loosely based on the old Haul Road right-of-way; or it could end up being a combination of the two.
All of these alternatives, though, depend on one crucial element: the realignment of the I-5 interchange at Highway 62. The interchange is so congested and gnarled that vehicles often back up onto the freeway. Congress appropriated more than $17 million for the $22 million interchange project, and the state is throwing in the rest.
After looking at 50 scenarios, engineers have come up with an interchange design that will connect into any of the alternatives for the larger project and has the least impact on existing businesses. But the plan does change the access of many businesses on Highway 62.
It also puts roads through current businesses: the International House of Pancakes, Denny’s and Best Western Pony Soldier.
Business and property owners are reacting with everything from bitter resignation to hopes for a better future.
“What can you do?” asked one property owner who declined to be identified. “They will take it no matter how you feel. There’s not anything you can do about it.”
At IHOP, manager Betsy Bigham was worried about the regulars like the couple who eat breakfast there every day and the little old man who comes in every Sunday for his strawberry waffles. But, she said, she hopes the corporate office and restaurant owner will relocate the pancake and dinner house to an easier-to-reach location, like maybe the Central Point Interstate 5 exit.
“We have a terrible location here,” she admitted. “Hopefully, this will be positive and not negative.”
Johnnie Roach, a friend of Best Western Pony Soldier owner Mary Martha McComas, said she has a 22-year lease on the property. They are exploring both the pros and the cons of the situation.
“The cons are we are out of business and there is no 22 years of income left,” Roach said. “It’s a matter of the state doing their calculations and coming up with an offer. You never know until you get to the table.”
Bill Siebert, who co-owns the land on which Best Western and Denny’s sit, said he remembers that stretch of road when he first came to the Rogue Valley in 1943 and lived at Camp White.
“It was a great deal different than what is like now,” he said. “There wasn’t any Interstate 5. There was hardly any buildup on Crater Lake Highway. It was just farmland.”
But he said he’s not going to let himself get worked up about the changes.
“I’m surprised they are going that way and spending that much money for all these properties,” he said. “But as long as you get compensated for the property, it’s not too much problem.”
ODOT’s Frank Stevens, the leader of the Highway 62 project, said negotiations with land and business owners are part of the process. He noted that ODOT even pays relocation costs.
“They won’t be left out in the cold,” he said. “We are typically successful in negotiations, and the process is there if we can’t come to a resolution.
“And then the courts can decide. … But that’s the last resort.”
There’s still a chance that the project won’t go forward. ODOT has scheduled a hearing on a draft environmental impact statement in early 2001. That hearing will explore the economic and environmental impacts of the three alternatives. The alternatives all include the same interchange design, but a fourth option is to build nothing. If one of the “build” alternatives is approved, construction of the new interchange will begin in the summer of 2003. Construction of the rest of the Highway 62 plan will occur when funding becomes available.
“The implications of no-build are the congestion will get worse, air quality will be degraded and accidents will increase and possibly, you could develop to the point that there would be fewer jobs,” said Jim Hanks, project manager of JRH transportation engineering. “The problems identified in that corridor are pretty substantial and very real.”