About one-eighth of a mile of freeway will be lowered up to 2.5 feet so the 45-year-old overpass sits 17.4 inches feet above the roadway in compliance with the modern standard, said Gary Leaming, a spokesman for Oregon Department of Transportation in Medford.

Work is slated to start Wednesday on remodeling Ashland's south interchange, but the first few months will be devoted to lowering Interstate 5 under the overpass to allow for bigger trucks.

Traffic on the overpass and ramps will be affected beginning in fall.

About one-eighth of a mile of freeway will be lowered up to 2.5 feet so the 45-year-old overpass sits 17.4 inches feet above the roadway in compliance with the modern standard, said Gary Leaming, a spokesman for Oregon Department of Transportation in Medford.

Workers will excavate the freeway's asphalt and roadbed, shunting traffic through a crossover detour while maintaining two lanes in each direction so freeway travelers will experience no delays, Leaming said. Work in the northbound lane will come first, then work in the southbound.

Work on the two-lane overpass will be done in fall and winter, starting with foundations. Then it will be widened, and a center turn lane and bike and pedestrian paths will be added on both sides, with traffic lights to shorten waits for drivers coming off ramps onto Highway 66.

As with the freeway, the overpass will continue to have lanes open during construction with no delays to drivers, Leaming said.

When completed, the overpass will include three 12-foot traffic lanes with 7-foot bike and pedestrian lanes on each side.

Because the site is the first urban interchange in Oregon for motorists coming from the south, it is considered a welcoming gateway to both Ashland and the state, said Leaming.

"It needs to be special and fit what Ashland is looking for," said Leaming, noting that the design has colored concrete, spots for banners and sports many art deco touches found in Ashland. It was worked out in meetings with residents.

"It's not going to look like your standard interstate gray concrete bridge," he said.

The prime contractor on the total $12.8 million project is Concrete Enterprises of Stayton. Engineers were at the project site Monday working out traffic control patterns.

The project is funded through the Oregon Transportation Investment Act, which is ODOT's $1.3 billion program to replace and repair hundreds of bridges in the state while boosting economic growth.

Work is slated to end in April 2012.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.