Cracks in the Lithia Way bridge concrete must be repaired as soon as weather conditions allow or heavy traffic will be prohibited from crossing it, transportation officials said.

The Lithia Way bridge over Water Street is structurally deficient, Oregon Department of Transportation officials said Wednesday.

Cracks in the concrete must be repaired as soon as weather conditions allow or heavy traffic will be prohibited from crossing it, they said.

ODOT plans to begin the three-month-long repair job in late February or early March, as soon as daytime temperatures are above 50 degrees, so the epoxy that will seal the cracks can adhere and harden, said spokesman Gary Leaming.

"It's a 55-year-old bridge — if you go down and look under it, it's got stress fractures," he said. "The bridge is in need of help."

The repairs will generate substantial noise and cause partial closures of Water Street and Lithia Way, potentially creating headaches for several dozen nearby business owners and residents.

ODOT, working with the city's approval, hopes to finish the construction before Ashland's tourist season begins.

Built over Ashland Creek in 1956, the bridge has cracks in its deck and support structure, but poses no immediate danger to vehicles, Leaming said.

"There's no danger now, but if we don't get in there and fix it next spring, we'll be forced to load-limit it and that would have major impacts on the community," he said.

Heavy vehicles, such as fire engines and freight trucks, could be prohibited from crossing the bridge if it's not repaired this year, Leaming said.

That could create a public safety hazard for all residents and a logistical nightmare for business owners who depend on shipments from freight trucks.

During the first month of construction, workers may partially close Water Street and some nearby sidewalks. For the remainder of the project, ODOT will close a lane of Lithia Way 24 hours a day, rendering it a one-lane street, as crews repair the top of the bridge.

ODOT will meet with people who own property and businesses near the bridge from 4:30 to 7 p.m. today at the Plaza Inn & Suites, 98 Central Ave.

Officials have yet to set the working hours for the project, but they have said they plan to work for 10 hours each day during daylight, in the hopes of completing the work by late April or early May.

ODOT will hold a community meeting on the project in January, Leaming said. The project will go before bidders next month, he said.

After putting epoxy in the cracks in the bridge, crews will drill about 500 inch-wide holes in the deck and insert steal pins in the concrete to stabilize it. Later, the bridge will be repaved with asphalt.

An ODOT inspection team discovered the bridge was structurally deficient this summer, and plans to repair the bridge were approved about six weeks ago, Leaming said. The project is expected to cost ODOT about $400,000, he said.

City officials have given ODOT the green-light on the project, because they recognize the importance of fixing the bridge as soon as possible, said Jim Olson, the city's engineering services manager.

"It's something that needs to be addressed pretty quickly," he said.