Lithia Way bridge repairs may hurt downtown business for a few months this spring, but the work needs to be done, because the bridge is structurally deficient, community members who attended an Oregon Department of Transportation meeting on the project said Thursday.

Lithia Way bridge repairs may hurt downtown business for a few months this spring, but the work needs to be done because the bridge is structurally deficient, community members who attended an Oregon Department of Transportation meeting on the project said Thursday.

"If the bridge needs to be enhanced structurally, then this has to be done," said City Councilman Michael Morris. "I think there will be a moderate impact to businesses, but manageable."

About a dozen community members attended the afternoon meeting at the Plaza Inn and Suites, near where the construction site will be located.

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

"The beams have cracked, so we'll be stabilizing those, and the deck is starting to come loose, so we'll hook the deck back to the beams," said Jason Sheadel, ODOT roadway designer.

Contractor Wildish Standard Paving expects to start work on the bridge March 17, said ODOT spokesman Gary Leaming. Water Street will likely be closed for a few days during late March, as crews inject an epoxy-based glue in the interior girders and cross beams under the bridge, he said.

Between about April 1 and May 15, when the project is scheduled to be completed, Lithia Way will be reduced to one lane over the bridge as crews repair the deck.

The road and lane closures may result in some traffic delays, Leaming said.

The goal is to finish the repairs before Ashland's tourism season is in full swing, he said.

"The contractor has a pretty aggressive schedule," Leaming said.

People will still be able to access all businesses in the area, but the construction could cause traffic and noise headaches.

The construction has already impacted the Rogue Valley Growers & Crafters Saturday market, said manager Heidi Dawn. The Saturday market had hoped to open its proposed new location on Oak Street in May, but will instead open at its old location on Lithia Way and First Street during that month to avoid traffic problems, she said. The market will open on Oak Street in June, pending city approval of the location.

"We postponed the opening for four weeks because of the construction," she said.

Ashland resident Karen Smith said she supported ODOT's plans for the bridge work.

"I walk this area a lot and I know the bridge really needs to be repaired," she said. "I'm sure the city and ODOT will do a good job."

Alexandra Dunn, a tourist from Seattle who attended the meeting, said she hopes the repairs don't confuse Ashland's visitors.

"I think they'll need appropriate signing, but I think they'll figure it out," she said. "The work isn't going to take up that big of an area."

Crews will work between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. on weekends. The project will generate some noise, which will be approximately as loud as a home blender, according to project officials.

The ramp from Lithia Way to Water Street will remain open during the Lithia Way lane closures, but the loop from Lithia Way to Main Street, near Church Street, will be closed, with a detour available on Helman Street.

About eight parking spots on Lithia Way will be unavailable during the construction, as well as some spaces on Water Street.

The artwork under the bridge will be removed during the construction and returned to its original location after the work is complete, Leaming said.

An ODOT inspection team discovered the bridge was structurally deficient last summer. The project is expected to cost ODOT about $400,000, but the budget for the project is $500,000, Leaming said.

Leaming said he was surprised to see such a small turnout at Thursday's meeting.

"I guess this is a real controversial project," he joked.

Contact reporter Hannah Guzik at 541-708-1158 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.