Although the bridges near Interstate 5 exits 14 and 19 are structurally obsolete, according to the Oregon Department of Transportation, Ashland residents "are not going to see here what happened in Minnesota," said John McDonald, an ODOT planner.

The state transportation agency will replace the two aging highway overpasses beginning in the spring of 2009. Both overpasses were built in the 1960s, making them roughly the same age as Interstate 35W bridge that collapsed in Minneapolis, Minn.

Construction will begin in April 2009, and won't end until November 2011. For now, ODOT is in the early stages of planning the project and determining what kind of new design to use. McDonald led an open-house discussion at Pioneer Hall on Thursday to answer questions about the project.

Although he said many of specifics have yet to be decided, there are some aspects of the project he is relatively confident in.

Both intersections, he said, "will be better for bicyclists and pedestrians."

Exit 14, he said, will get a bike path, but Exit 19 may not. It will at least get a wider shoulder to accommodate the bicyclists who cross over South Valley Road on the Bear Creek Greenway.

He said construction will occur on both exits at the same time, but neither will be fully closed by the work.

"We realize some cost savings by doing them simultaneously," McDonald said.

There are also some things that McDonald said won't happen as a result of the bridge repair or replacement project.

He said although South Valley View Road, the street that connects Highway 99 to Exit 19, is the busiest in Jackson County and is in need of five lanes, but that improvement won't happen. The pool of money being tapped to repair the bridges, he said, "can't be used to widen roads."

He said Jackson County plans to widen South Valley View Road within the next 10 years.

McDonald also said a unique design for Exit 14, called a diverging diamond interchange, most likely won't be considered. At a previous meeting with the Ashland City Council and Planning Commission, project planners said ODOT was considering building the first diverging diamond interchange on the West Coast for Exit 14.

"It would require modifications that would cost too much," McDonald said. "It is more expensive than alternatives that would also work."

McDonald said there is a citizen advisory group that meets on the third Wednesday "of most months" in the community development building on Winburn Way. The next meeting will be in October, when possible bridge designs will begin to be considered.

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