Ashland drivers may have to adjust to driving on the left-hand side of the road if the Oregon Department of Transportation decides to build a "diverging diamond" interchange at exit 14, the connection between Interstate 5 and Ashland Street.




The experimental design, which would move drivers to the left-hand side of Ashland Street as they cross over I-5 with the help of two traffic signals on either side of the overpass, is in use at only one other location in the world: Versailles, France. There are several others in the conceptual phase, such as Kansas City, Mo.




"It could put Ashland on the map," Michael Baker, an ODOT transportation planner, told a joint session of the Ashland City Council and Ashland Planning Commission on Tuesday night to discuss plans for new interchanges at exits 14 and 19 in 2009.




The diverging diamond is one of five potential interchange designs that could be used to connect Ashland Street to I-5. Another is a single-point urban interchange, like the one recently built in Medford to connect Barnett Road to I-5. The three other potential designs are more traditional designs, Baker said after the meeting. ODOT has not made any preliminary designs for either interchange as the project is still in the early stages. Survey work will begin this fall, and designs should be ready by December, Baker said. The designs will be ready for city and county approval by July 2008.




Councilor David Chapman was concerned that whatever design ODOT chooses for exit 14, it should be bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly.




"Trace through and show me how a pedestrian or a bicyclist would make their way through the interchange," he asked the engineers who are coming up with the designs for ODOT. About the diverging diamond design, he said, "I'll make sure that doesn't happen here."




The engineers, from David Evans and Associates in Portland, said they had heard of conflicts with bikes, pedestrians and diverging diamonds, but added that they just started to look at design.




"I have to be honest, we haven't looked at this in great detail," said Christian Snuffin, a traffic engineer. "This is new to everyone."




Councilors and commissioners spent the majority of the presentation asking about exit 14, rather than exit 19, but wanted to ensure they would have an equal say at exit 19, which is controlled by Jackson County. Specific ideas for exit 19 were not discussed.




"The north interchange is just as important to us," said John Stromberg, chairman of the planning commission. "The county sometimes has very different ideas about how they want things to go."




Baker, of ODOT, said the city would have no approval at exit 19, but ODOT would be willing to bring the concept back to the council for review.




Many councilors and commissioners wanted to know why both projects were to be done simultaneously in the summer of 2009.




Jared Castle, an ODOT spokesman, said last week that projects are cheaper when done together because companies can double up on time and resources. "There is a cost savings to doing them in bundles," he said.




Baker said neither exit or adjoining roads would be entirely closed during construction.




"It will be staged in a way that it's not like the interchanges are going to be shut down," he said.




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