A long anticipated rest area and welcome center on Interstate 5 outside Ashland was planned to open early in 2018, but two tough winters in a row have delayed those plans.

Withdrawal of the architectural firm that designed two buildings for Stage 2 of the project didn't help either.

Bids for construction of the buildings won’t be advertised until next month after Oregon Department of Transportation completes an agreement with a new architectural firm, said Tim Fletcher, project manager.

“The construction period for Stage 2 is about a year, but we are moving into another winter,” said Fletcher. “(Loss of the architect) has been an inconvenience, but it really hasn’t been a significant factor in the overall schedule of the project.”

Wildish Standard Paving of Eugene, the prime contractor for ground work that includes roads and parking lots, is expected to finish Stage 1 later this month.

Portland firm GPA Architects LLC was contracted for Stage 2. Steven Plowman, who headed the firm, had to shut down the business due to health reasons, Fletcher said.

“The design has been completed and has been approved by Jackson County. It’s just a timing issue at this point,” said Fletcher. A proposed contract with a new firm is under review by the Oregon Department of Justice, a standard procedure with ODOT contracts, said Fletcher.

“There were no issues with the time or the work they had done. Circumstances dictated what happened,” said Fletcher. The new firm will work with the same engineering firms that assisted GPA.

Two so-called Cascadia-themed buildings, one for restrooms and the other for the visitor center, will be built. Stage 2 also includes landscaping at the site. ODOT didn’t want to have the two contractors working over each other at the same time, said Fletcher.

“The real delay was the weather that we had the last two winters,” said Fletcher. “The contractor didn’t get in and get the work done this last winter. It was one of the worst winters on record.”

Once the welcome center building is complete, ODOT will turn it over to Travel Oregon, which will furnish and run the operation. Travel Oregon paid for the center and borrowed $1.5 million from the city of Medford for part of its contribution. Gas taxes are being used to pay back the loan. Calls to a Travel Oregon representative for comment were not returned.

About $7.3 million has been spent on Stage 1, said ODOT spokesman Gary Leaming. The entire project has a cost of $12 million.

A rest area farther south on Interstate 5 on a 6 percent downgrade was closed in 1997 due to safety concerns about vehicles merging into traffic. Commercial truckers will not stop at the new facility but will have restrooms available at the Ashland Port of Entry between exits 14 and 19.

Wildish also did earthwork and installed drainage and other infrastructure at the site. A service road was built to link to Crowson Road in south Ashland. It’s being used during construction and will be a supply route when regular operations begin.

— Tony Boom is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at tboomwriter @gmail.com.