“Drivers traveling on Redwood Highway (US 199) west of Grants Pass will see a lot of orange this summer in the work zone,” said ODOT Public Service Representative Dennis Steers.
A second phase of transportation improvements is underway and will continue through October to make the Redwood Highway safer. Knife River Corporation is the prime contractor for the second phase of the US 199 Expressway project, known as US 199 RCC (Rogue Community College) to Dowell Road.
The $5.3 million project is designed to separate oncoming Redwood Highway traffic with a low-level median and install a new signal at Hubbard Lane. A new multi-use path will be constructed for bicyclists and pedestrians on the north side of the Redwood Highway between Dowell Road and Hubbard Lane.
Design and development of the US 199 Expressway project began with a federally-required study of the corridor in 2006 that included public input into the project.
The US 199 Expressway project’s first phase improved safety along more than two miles of the corridor’s west side from RCC to Midway Avenue, a segment of highway notorious for being one of Oregon’s most crash-prone sections. The $3.5 million first phase installed medians to channel turning traffic and a raised median to stop a vehicle from crossing into the opposite lanes of travel. The project accommodated U-turns at Hubbard Lane and a wider intersection at Midway Avenue.
RVACT shelves phase three
“Our agency won’t build a project in a community that does not support the improvements,” said ODOT Area Manager Art Anderson. “Unfortunately, that is what happened with Grants Pass and Josephine County.”
Anderson said the lack of community support was disheartening in light of all the recent state transportation projects in and around Josephine County over the past few years.
“ODOT has invested millions into Grants Pass, rebuilding the south Grants Pass exit on Interstate 5, replacing the I-5 bridge over Beacon Drive and adding a passing lane between Hayes Hill and the Applegate River Bridge,” said Anderson. “And that’s in addition to completing the first phase of the US 199 Expressway project and starting the second phase.”
In March, the Rogue Valley Area Commission on Transportation (RVACT) voted to remove the remaining $4.5 million from the final phase of the US 199 Expressway project. RVACT is an advisory body that considers regional and local transportation issues affecting the state system. RVACT plays a key advisory role in the development of the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program, which schedules funded transportation projects.
Funds go to two Josephine County projects
In May, RVACT members voted to transfer the remaining US 199 Expressway funds to two Josephine County projects: $950,000 for improvements to Allen Creek Road between US 199 and Oregon 238 and $2.7 million for improvements to I-5 exit 61 in Merlin.
The funds that will be used to make improvements to Allen Creek Road between Redwood Highway (US 199) and Williams Highway (Oregon 238) requires a funding match of $1.35 million from the City of Grants Pass.
The 10-to-9 vote reprioritized modernization funds that had been previously approved in October 2010.
“What I’m hearing from our discussion is that equity is a goal and selection is based on the right project,” said RVACT Co-Chair Mike Montero prior to the vote.
Montero said RVACT, which recommends projects to the Oregon Transportation Commission, follows a process and it does not include county earmarks.
“Our votes here have consequences in those communities,” said Montero.
Highway received priority status in 2006
RVACT designated the US 199 Expressway project a regional priority in 2006, partially due to the increased number of fatal and serious injury crashes along the corridor.
A Citizens Advisory Committee and Project Development Team comprised of representatives, citizens and businesses from Grants Pass and Josephine County developed an alternative design, known as ‘Alternative A’ to present to the public.
A second group of citizens and businesses requested city officials commission another traffic engineer to develop a third alternative. This resulted in the ‘Working Group’ alternative, which was presented to the project teams for review and inclusion in the federally-required planning document.
In February 2008, the teams selected Alternative A, a design that allowed traffic to move easily through the corridor while accommodating local businesses along the highway and those on a redesigned Redwood Avenue.
Alternative A received some local business support, including the Grants Pass Chamber of Commerce Director Jon Jordan who sat on the project ’s development team. However, concerns by several other businesses and locally-elected officials stopped the larger project.