Bridge building continues on Fern Valley Interchange

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Even with winter’s colder temperatures and wetter conditions, construction on the Fern Valley Interchange project continues unabated in and around Interstate 5 exit 24.

The $72 million Fern Valley Interchange project’s size and complexity require more than two full construction seasons to complete.

Scheduled for completion in late September 2016, the Fern Valley Interchange project encompasses I-5, Oregon 99 and Fern Valley Road.

In addition to the construction of Oregon’s first Diverging Diamond interchange, the project realigns North Phoenix Road between Peterbuilt Motors and Home Depot.

Diverging Diamond Interchange
The new interchange bridge is being constructed just north of the existing bridge, leaving most roadways west of the interchange relatively untouched. The Diverging Diamond interchange design has a narrow footprint, which helps avoid touching most businesses during and after the project.

The design also helps keep traffic congestion to a minimum while increasing safety.

“The Diverging Diamond design provides higher capacity to move traffic while, at the same time, reducing right of way needs,” said ODOT Public Information Officer Gary Leaming. “Drivers will move to the opposite side of the road to enter I-5 or to cross it. This movement reduces the number of signal phases a driver needs to clear.”

Construction work is focused on two new bridges that span I-5 and Bear Creek. Prime contractor Hamilton Construction of Springfield set bridge beams over I-5, necessitating detours for interstate traffic. Nineteen concrete beams were placed over each direction of I-5.

The beams used on the Fern Valley Interchange project are smaller than the ones used for the South Medford Interchange project in 2007. That project used same-day delivery to haul the massive beams in from the north. The beams used for the Fern Valley Interchange project had already been transported to the work site, where the beams remained stored until set in place.

Bridge beams were set on the first half of the Bear Creek Bridge last October. Construction now is focused on tying the steel to the bridge deck in preparation for a spring deck pour.

In 2015, construction will extend for the first time west of the Bear Creek Bridge toward Oregon 99 and Bolz Road. The precursor of that construction work is the installation of a new water line for the City of Phoenix before roadwork construction can begin. Oregon 99 will also be widened to accommodate turn lanes, bike lanes and sidewalks.

Grove Road
Wet fall weather hindered the opening of Grove Road and the new North Phoenix Road alignment behind the Home Depot, even though much of the road construction and sidewalks are complete.

Opening of those roadways in 2015 will allow more phases to kick in, including the replacement of the existing northbound on-ramp with a temporary northbound on-ramp near La-Z-Boy Furniture.

The closure of the existing North Phoenix Road in front of the Home Depot will follow. That phase will allow Hamilton Construction to essentially bridge the gap and connect the new I-5 bridge.

“Once the temporary northbound on-ramp opens, the project focus in the interchange area is completing the new bridge spanning I-5,” said Leaming.

3-D traffic simulation video
“How will I negotiate the new interchange design?”

That’s a frequent question ODOT hears from local drivers and Phoenix residents, including stakeholders who followed the project’s long development process.

A 3-D traffic simulation completed in 2013 shows how the new crossing diamond interchange will operate. The simulation is featured on the project website.

“The traffic simulation video makes it much easier to explain how the new Fern Valley interchange will operate,” said Leaming. “From our project outreach during the South Medford Interchange project, we learned that a picture or, in this case, a video, is worth a thousand words. Once people see it, people get it.”

Work Zone Safety
I-5 drivers are benefitting from many safety features in the Fern Valley Interchange project work zone. Beyond cones and barrels, the project employs TripCheck traffic cameras, the Rogue Valley’s first Incident Response vehicle, and transverse rumble strips that have been built into the temporary southbound off-ramp to notify drivers of the upcoming tight, 20 mph curve before reaching the signalized intersection.

“The I-5 speed limit is lowered to 50 mph because of the narrow travel lanes and the close proximity of workers and vehicles entering and exiting the work zone,” said Leaming. “All of these tools are designed to reduce work zone crashes.

“Studies show that driver inattention is the biggest factor in work zone crashes.”
Oregon State Police patrols the work zone. Traffic fines double in work zones, even though there are no workers present.

Bear Creek Bridge and Greenway
The Bear Creek Greenway crossing was temporarily replaced at grade with Fern Valley Road because of the bridge construction.

Rectangular, rapid-flashing beacons are used so Fern Valley Road drivers can see that a greenway user wants to cross the road. Greenway bicyclists and pedestrians are strongly encouraged to push the buttons to alert motorists, who should treat the flashing beacons as they would a standard crosswalk.

“For everyone’s safety, people really need to pay attention in the work zone,” said Jackson County Special Projects Manager Jenna Stanke. “We’ve had instances where drivers haven’t stopped for Greenway users and users who haven’t bothered stopping at the crossing.”

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PROJECT CAPS LOCAL BUSINESSES

Although designed to promote safety, relieve congestion and improve connectivity, state highway projects are often vilified as disruptive, headache-inducing challenges for drivers and local businesses. What most people don’t realize is that short-term, high-intensity construction projects like the Fern Valley Interchange are also major business generators.

After winning the project bid, prime contractor Hamilton Construction of Springfield established accounts with nearly 40 suppliers and subcontractors in the Phoenix area.

For example, Hamilton Construction purchases tires from Les Schwab Tire Center, water for its construction trailers from Mt. Shasta Spring Water and plywood from The Home Depot. Other local contractors and vendors supporting the project include Pacific Survey, Ledford Construction, Southern Oregon Concrete Pumping, Bullet Rental and Sales, Hilton Fuel/Trucking, United Rentals Northwest, and Wilson Equipment Rentals and Sales.

So far, Hamilton Construction has spent roughly $1.9 million on materials, such as concrete and rebar and about $260,000 on supplies.

Additionally, construction workers eat at local restaurants like Si Casa Flores and sleep at local motels or RV parks, such as America’s Best Inn and Suites.

“People have been real responsive to help us out,” said Hamilton Construction Project Manager Chris VanderPloeg.

VanderPloeg estimates Hamilton Construction’s expenditures on the Fern Valley project will probably double before construction wraps up in 2016.

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