Jackson County officials say the Highway 99 corridor between south Medford and north Ashland needs updates to better accommodate bicyclists and motorists and improve safety.
The Oregon Department of Transportation concurs and is in the process of drafting a plan to update that stretch of road.
Changes include lighting updates, enhanced connections to the Bear Creek Greenway, adding center turn lanes in some areas, reducing certain lane sizes and adding shoulders and sidewalks in some corridor sections to better accommodate bicyclists and pedestrians.
ODOT estimated the cost at $6 million to $7 million. The proposed improvements are aimed at accommodating traffic volumes through the year 2034, ODOT said.
"There is a problem today," said Jackson County Roads & Parks Director John Vial. "Something needs to be done. Is this the right solution? That's going to be a matter of opinion, but they are trying to fix a current problem."
ODOT officials presented their in-progress plan during a Jackson County Board of Commissioners public work session Tuesday.
Ian Horlacher, ODOT planner, said the agency began evaluating Highway 99 in 2010 with an eye toward improving driving conditions and making commutes smoother.
With traffic volumes of 15,000 to 17,000 vehicle trips per day, ODOT officials said, the road needs modifications. Between 2005 and 2009, 308 crashes were reported on the highway. Most were rear-end collisions or involved cars making left turns.
"It's more of a safety improvement," Horlacher said. "There are a number of considerations."
Current proposals would keep all four travel lanes in some sections but would reduce lane widths and make accommodations for bike lanes and sidewalks or multiuse paths. Horlacher said this would especially help the road through the north end of Phoenix.
"There's no continuous sidewalk," Horlacher said. "You have intermittent sidewalks, you have substandard sidewalks where there are utility poles in the middle."
Some sections would be reduced from four lanes to three, with two travel lanes, a center turn lane and seven-foot shoulders for bicyclists.
ODOT has been meeting with various local governments along the corridor to gather input and suggestions that could be incorporated into final plans.
"We will not adopt a plan the county won't adopt. Or the cities," said ODOT Planning Manager Mike Baker.
Commissioner Don Skundrick said he had no objections to the project.
"I think their plan makes all the sense in the world," Skundrick said.
Commissioner John Rachor agreed but said he understood the viewpoint that this project was geared only toward bicyclists, which average about 60 trips a day on the stretch compared to thousands of drivers.
"These guys are engineers, and it sounds like they've done their research," Rachor said.
ODOT officials will hold March open houses to gather public comments about the project. The exact dates and locations have yet to be determined. (This statement has been edited for clarity).
— Ryan Pfeil