The Infamous Black Bird Southern Oregon History, Revised

Interstate 5
Click here for the Medford viaduct story.

    In the next few years, too, the Highway 99 freeway will be in various phases of construction. An initial phase of the four-lane divided highway is now under construction between the Seven Oaks area north of Central Point to a point south of Central Point.
"Area Construction Reflects Economic Health," Medford Mail Tribune, June 28, 1959, page 14

Freeway South of Eugene Gets Attention
Highway Has Been Undergoing Series of Changes
    Salem--The Baldock Freeway, between Portland and Salem, the nation's first toll-free rural freeway, has now been in use four years. During that time millions of Oregon motorists using this example of modern highway engineering have become "freeway conditioned."
    Motorists have become accustomed to the convenience of the steady speeds that so quickly reduces distance with no apparent effort. They have learned to like the secure feeling that comes with the knowledge that no car or pedestrian is likely to dart into their path. And motorists have eagerly used each new section of freeway as project after project has been completed and opened to traffic.
    The Pacific freeway, of which the Baldock is but a section, has been extended past Salem to Albany, and work on the 42-mile Albany to Eugene section is in its final phase. All of this new roadway is a part of the federal interstate freeway program.
Focused on Southern Area
    Now attention is being focused on the area to the south--between Eugene and the California line.
    This section of the Pacific freeway proves once again that designing and building a new highway, whether a complete relocation, a realignment, or widening of an existing line, is involved, is not an overnight accomplishment.
    Surveys must be made, data analyzed, designs decided upon and contracts let before any visible progress can be made. And the best of plans will not reach the contract stage if funds are not made available to the State Highway Commission.
Undergoing Changes
    And so it has been in the area south of Eugene. There, as part of the state highway department's statewide program of highway improvement, Highway 99 has been undergoing an almost constant series of changes designed to eliminate points of congestion and to make the route safer for the user.
    This program was under way long before the Federal Aid Highways Act of 1956 and 1958 were put into effect. The monies made available by the acts only accelerated the program.
    Five new sections between Eugene and Grants Pass are under construction or have been completed to "freeway standards" since the accelerated program began. The freeway, or interstate standards as they are known to highway engineers, are the design minimums set up by the U.S. bureau of public roads to govern highway construction throughout the 50 states.
Requirements of Standards
    The standards require the separation of opposing traffic lanes and full access control. The median or dividing area between lanes may vary from a minimum of four feet in urban and mountainous areas to a maximum of 76 feet in flat or rolling country. Individual traffic lanes are 12 feet wide. All weather shoulders generally ten feet wide on the outside and six feet on the inside also are provided.
    Driving south from Eugene the first of these areas is encountered seven miles from Cottage Grove. Here between Comstock and Anlauf the modern two-lane highway, realigned only a few years ago, is being widened to meet interstate standards.
    White Brothers Construction Company of Walla Walla, Washington, has the grading and paving contract for this project, which is about 65 percent complete. The Bear Creek bridge, which is located within the 1.38-mile section under contract, has already been widened by the InterCity Sand and Gravel Company, of Eugene.
    Continuing southward on Highway 99, the second section is encountered between Oakland and Sutherlin junctions. This is a 3
¾-mile widening job, with White Brothers Construction Company doing the grading and paving. Two bridges, the Calapooya and Stearns Lane structures, have also been widened by the Tom Lillebo Construction Company of Reedsport. Work on this project is almost completed.
South of Roseburg
    Farther south, below Roseburg, a 1¾-mile section has been completed between
Shady and Roberts Creek. A new bridge was included in the construction.
    Nearing Myrtle Creek the two-lane highway swells to "interstate" proportions. This section is 9⅓ miles long, and stretches to Canyonville in a long series of easily driven curves.
    A multi-million-dollar project, the Myrtle Creek-Canyonville freeway was constructed on an entirely new location requiring two bridges over the Umpqua River, two railroad grade separation and seven highway grade structures. The new route replaces an old length of narrow highway originally constructed in the 1920s, and cuts driving time between the two points by four minutes.
    Approaching Grants Pass, an equally beautiful new section of freeway makes the final 9¼ miles of the journey to that city a pleasure to drive. This section, like Myrtle Creek, was constructed on an entirely new location, and was completed and opened to traffic in 1958. The four smooth traffic lanes, five new bridges and two highway grade separation structures involved in the project cut the driving time between Jumpoff Joe Creek, a small stream located three miles south of Sexton Mountain, and Grants Pass by a full five minutes.
    The 25 miles of freeway now in use or under construction between Eugene and Grants Pass will cost more than $11,000,000, including right of way. These new sections, coupled with the improved two-lane highway, which incorporates passing lanes where needed, make the 140-mile trip safer and easier to drive.
Full-Length Freeway
    Eventually the entire length of this highway will be four lanes as rapidly as construction funds are made available. In the meantime programs for which monies are available are being put into effect in the area between Grants Pass and Medford where the need for improvement is critical.
    At present, the new four-lane highway into Grants Pass is being extended past that city, parallel to and along the north bank of the Rogue River as far as Evans Creek.
    Until the new freeway is completed, traffic from Highway 99 will continue to be routed through Grants Pass. Part of the back pressure caused by the limited capacity of the Caveman Bridge over the Rogue River was relieved when the new Seventh Street bridge was opened to northbound traffic last September. Work is more than three fourths complete on the Redwood Highway interchange, a million dollar construction job under way just south of Grants Pass.
Access to Freeway
    When the new freeway is opened, interstate traffic will no longer use the old route. Local and coastbound traffic will have access to the freeway at two interchanges located immediately to the north and east of Grants Pass.
    Morrison-Knudsen Company is grading a 5½-mile section of the new freeway between the north interchange at Grants Pass and the Jackson County line. The contract also includes the grading of the east interchange. The grading of the north interchange is being done by the Hughes-Dodd Company and the Tru-Mix Company, both of Medford. A single structure for this interchange is being built by Peter Kiewit and Sons, of Vancouver, Wash.
    Grading of the three-mile section between the Josephine County line and Evans Creek in Jackson County is being handled by the Earl L. McNutt Company, of Eugene. The combined cost of these two sections will be around S6,850,000.
    Work is programmed, but not yet contracted, on the section between Evans Creek and Homestead on the Rogue River. This work, which is due to be contracted in 1960 if funds are available, will include the construction of a pair of 958-foot reinforced concrete bridges. The bridges will carry freeway traffic over the Rogue where it can join the existing two-lane highway at Rock Point.
    If schedules can be held, and are not slowed by the lack of funds, the Grants Pass to Rock Point freeway should be opened to traffic by the fall of 1961.
    The existing highway between Rock Point and Seven Oaks, just to the north of Medford, will continue to be used at that time.
    A 412 mile section of the new Medford freeway is now under construction between Seven Oaks and Table Rock rd. Peter Kiewit and Sons is grading this section which is being located on an entirely new line. This contract includes the grading of interchanges at Seven Oaks and Central Point.
Freeway Extension
    When funds become available, the freeway will be extended to the Crater Lake Highway. An interchange will also be constructed at this point. Paving will be held up on the section now being graded until the connection is made at the Crater Lake highway. At that time the entire unit between Seven Oaks and Crater Lake Highway will be paved and opened to traffic.
    Plans for the extension of the freeway through the city of Medford have not been finalized at the present time, but the programming of this work is assured for the not too distant future. In the meantime, the existing facilities will continue to carry traffic through Medford to Ashland and on to the state line.
    State highway officials have announced that the original target date for four-laning the entire interstate highway system in the state has been moved up by the delay experienced during the summer of 1959 while Congress argued the pros and cons of the gas tax. The exact date for completing the interstate system in Oregon is now indefinite, but surveys, studies and plans will be continued and projects started as funds are available, the chief engineer pointed out.
Medford Mail Tribune, November 12, 1959, page 22

Men, Machines Tear Path Along Bear Creek
$3 Million Project To Extend Freeway to City Under Way
Mail Tribune Staff Writer
    Huge machines tear great chunks of earth from the ground--others pull it from one place to another--still others smash it flat.
    Some machines rip tangled masses of dirty black underbrush from the soil and toss it effortlessly on large piles. A man in a steel helmet puts a match to them and columns of grey smoke rise over the city.
    The scene is looking north from the Jackson St. bridge at any time during the past month. For it is here that 50 men and as many giant machines are tearing a long barren scar through the heart of the city.
    Nothing stands in their way.
Creek Looks Better
    But, even with the scar an old-timer looking north will have to admit that Bear Creek looks better now than it has for a long time past.
    It won't be long before the scar is covered over with a four-lane band of pavement stretching from horizon to horizon.
    Interstate No. 5 will change will face of the entire city--most people hope for the better.
    Although completion of the freeway is still nearly two years in the future, the change is already taking place.
    New motels and restaurants are springing up almost overnight along the city's thoroughfares in anticipation of a considerable increase in Medford's tourist trade. More will come.
Boon to Valley
    Construction of the freeway itself is a boon to the valley economy through the purchase of local materials and the hiring of local labor.
    The chamber of commerce expects that the freeway will bring new industry to Medford.
Built in Three Sections
    The city planning commission is swamped with requests for zone changes near the freeway interchange sites.
    If all goes well the freeway may result in more jobs, more money and a growing city.
    There may be adverse effects too.
    Interstate No. 5 is being built in three sections in this area--from Seven Oaks Rd., north of Central Point, to Jackson St.; from Jackson St. to Barnett Rd.; and from Barnett Rd. to Valley View Rd., north of Ashland.
    A $3,032,472.80 contract to build the first section was awarded to Peter Kiewit and Sons Construction Company of Omaha, Neb., in November. Bids for the other two sections are scheduled to be open on April 1
    Since their contract was awarded in November, Peter Kiewit and Sons have cleared most of the freeway route from Seven Oaks Rd. to the Jackson St. bridge, and are now preparing the roadbed in many places.
    Work is under way or completed on several structures, including overpasses at Upton Rd., Vilas Rd., Crater Lake Highway and Table Rock Rd. Work crews are preparing the approaches for the Medford Corporation private truck road overpass north of Crater Lake Highway.
Temporary Detours
    Two temporary detours have been erected--at Crater Lake Highway and Table Rock Rd. Traffic will be required to use these detours until the overpasses have been completed.
    Cement was being poured last week for a new Rogue River Valley Irrigation District dam, just north of the Jackson St. bridge. The old dam was in the way.
    A remark by a state highway department official last week that "progress is certainly evident," is almost an understatement.
Greatest Benefit
    Perhaps the freeway's greatest benefit to the valley at the present time is its help in relieving the local unemployment problem. Already, the contractor has hired 45 men to work on the freeway--of which 75 per cent are local--and he plans to have hired 150 by the time the peak employment period is reached next fall.
    This is for the first section alone.
    Work on this section of the freeway is scheduled for completion in May, 1962. The contractor hopes to start the actual paving process by September.
Overhead Structure
    The middle section of the freeway--from Jackson St. to Barnett Rd.--will be an overhead structure. From Barnett Rd. through Ashland the freeway will again take to the ground.
    The right of way will generally follow the course taken by Bear Creek through the valley. O. D. Rawlins, right of way agent for the state highway department, feels the freeway will help considerably in the general beautification of the Bear Creek area.
    Tons of brush and a "terrific lot" of other unsightly area will be removed or covered up during construction, he said. Also much of the creek bed is being straightened to eliminate erosion and channel movement.
    As for that long grey mass of concrete itself--Rawlins said the state will attempt to make it look as nice as possible.
Landscaping Planned
    The sides of the freeway embankment will be planted with grass, and various other landscaping will be done along the freeway route. In Medford, the freeway will be fenced and lighted.
    All of the freeway right of way from Medford to Ashland has either been purchased or condemned. Another one-third of the right of way already has been obtained in Ashland proper.
    For the next year and a half, possibly longer, Medford and the Rogue Valley will have to put up with a lot of dust, noise and inconvenience. It can’t be helped. It is the end product that counts.
    But, not everyone is in accordance on what the end product will be.
Support Damage Theory
    Some people say the freeway should have gone around the city instead of through it. They contend that it will do irreparable damage by cutting Medford in two. They might be right.
    Others argue that the economic benefits to be gained from having the freeway close at hand far outweigh the drawbacks. They may also be right.
    But, one thing is sure--Interstate No. 5 is here, and it is here to stay.
Medford Mail Tribune, February 12, 1961, page 6

Ceremony Set for Opening of Freeway Section
    The first major section of Interstate Route 5, the Pacific Freeway, in Southern Oregon, will officially open tomorrow morning.
    A ribbon cutting ceremony is scheduled at 10 a.m, tomorrow on the freeway at Rogue River, Mayor Larry Sheehan said today. The ceremony will open a six-mile section of the freeway between Rogue River and Rock Point, just north of Gold Hill.
    Attending will be Sheehan, Rogue River Chamber of Commerce representatives and state highway department officials.
    A section of the freeway about three miles long between Rock Point and the Rogue Riviera has been open more than two weeks.
    Completion of the freeway between Rogue River and Grants Pass is expected sometime in December, although bad weather could delay paving and opening of the section.
Will Drive Route
    Following the ribbon cutting in Rogue River tomorrow, the mayor and other officials will drive the length of the freeway section.
    Despite delays caused by the strike and recent rainy weather, progress on the freeway construction project from Jackson St. to Seven Oaks is "going well," according to Merlyn Marks, general superintendent of the project.
    The main goal this fall, he said, is to complete overpasses on Crater Lake Ave. and Table Rock Rd. in order to care for existing traffic in
those areas.
    Although Marks expects to get a bed of crushed rock laid this fall, he said he will be unable to do the concrete paving that had been planned. Work will be started on the paving at the earliest opportunity next spring, he said.
Double Shifts
    Double shifts have been working on the project outside the city limits recently, and a rock crushing machine also has been operating on a double shift, he said.
    Approximately 110 men were on the company's payroll last week, Marks said.
    Crews will continue to work this fall on the construction of the section from Jackson St. to Seven Oaks as long as weather permits, Marks said. He was hopeful they might be able to work as late as the middle of November.
Medford Mail Tribune, September 19, 1961, page 1

Grants Pass Area Freeway To Open
    The Interstate 5 freeway from the north Grants Pass interchange to Rogue River will be ready for opening ceremonies May 31, the state highway commission has informed Grants Pass and Rogue River officials.
    The section of freeway is 10 miles long. Opening date of the section was delayed because winter weather arrived before paving was completed along the shoulders.
    Other parts of the highway, including fencing and signing, have been done, officials said.
    One section of freeway from Rogue River south to Rock Point has been open this winter, and work is progressing along other sections of the freeway through the Rogue Valley.
Medford Mail Tribune, March 18, 1962, page 1

Freeway Progress in Ashland Area Noted by Official
    Grading of a 7.4-mile section of the interstate freeway should be completed by this fall, State Highway Engineer Bill Brown said last week in Ashland.
    Cost of the grading of the seven-mile stretch and construction of an overcrossing for the Green Springs Highway will run about $2 million,
Brown said.
    Work has not started yet on the Highway 66 overcrossing to be located just north of the former M. A. Ring property, the engineer reported. The structure was included in the grading contract awarded to the C. R. O'Neil Company, Creswell, Ore.
Completion Scheduled
    The Mistletoe railroad overcrossing south of Ashland is scheduled for completion by the middle of April, Brown said. This work involves relocation of the railroad track. Contractor is the R and M
Construction Company, Central Point.
    At the north Ashland interchange, the bridge to take Valley View traffic over the freeway is currently under construction by the Tom Lillebo Construction Company. Completion is expected in May.
    Valley View traffic probably will continue to use the detour for some time until approaches to the bridge are completed, he explained.
    Plans are being prepared for other freeway crossings between the Ashland interchanges.
Provisions for Crossings
    Provisions for these crossings are being made in grading at Butler Creek Rd. over the freeway; Oak St. under the freeway; Nevada St. over; East Main St., over; and Crowson Rd., under the freeway.
    Contracts are yet to be awarded for a bridge to take the freeway over Bear Creek just north of East Main St.
    "We are making excellent progress with no major difficulties encountered," Brown said.
Medford Mail Tribune,
March 25, 1962, page D1

Work on Freeway Progresses Rapidly
    Construction of Interstate Highway 5 in Southern Oregon is progressing rapidly with sections from Rock Point to Grants Pass now open to traffic. The highway project is slated for completion July 16, 1963.
    Construction progress was reported by Dick Geary, area structure supervisor for Peter Kiewit Sons. He stated that the deck of the bridge over Hawthorne Park is now half poured. Concrete is also poured from Jackson St. to Eighth St.
    However, the section from Eighth St. to Twelfth St. is not yet poured. Completion of the section is scheduled for the first part of November, although this date is dependent on the ironworkers strike, Geary commented.
    The two northbound lanes of the highway from Jackson St. to Seven Oaks have been poured. The southbound paving on the same stretch is due to begin Monday, June 18. Plans are for this portion to be finished July 10. However, detail work on the road will not be done until the first part of October. This includes laying the asphalt shoulders, erecting guardrails, and placing signs.
    On the Seven Oaks to Rock Point section, asphalt paving is scheduled to begin this week. Geary stated that the old lanes of the highway would be resurfaced when the new lanes are paved. Crews are now in the process of hauling rock as a base for the paving. The actual paving job is due for completion Aug. 15, and the detail work should be done about Oct. 15.
    In addition, Geary mentioned work on two bridges, one of which is over the railroad at Seven Oaks. The other is the widening of a bridge just north of Blackwell Hill. Although work on these two bridges has not yet been started, they are to he finished about Nov. 1.
    On the southern end of the Rogue Valley section of Interstate 5, the portion between Twelfth St. in Medford and North Ashland will be graded and paved. According to R. L. Poindexter, assistant resident engineer of the Oregon State Highway Department, R. E. Heintz Construction Company and Rogers Construction Company Inc., are in charge of the grading project.
    The work on this section was begun May 20, 1961. It is scheduled for completion July 13.
    F. H. Slate, Lmt., and E. C. Hall Construction Company have contracted to handle the paving of the Medford to Ashland portion. They are planning to start work Monday, June 18. This is the last lap of the Southern Oregon part of the highway, and will be finished at the final completion date, July 16, 1963.
    Work on the freeway between the North Ashland interchange and the South Ashland interchange is under contract to C. R. O'Neil Construction Company.
    According to Poindexter, the state highway department anticipates opening the freeway to Barnett Rd. by Sept. 15. This would entail bypassing Medford proper and then rerouting to Highway 99.
Medford Mail Tribune, June 17, 1962, page 1

Concrete Highway Without Joints Under Construction in Valley
    A concrete highway without joints is being built for the first time in Oregon on a stretch of Interstate 5 freeway from Medford to Ashland.
    This type of construction, which is referred to as continuous strip concrete paving, is a departure from the state's practice of installing joints every 66 feet on concrete Interstate freeways. The 9.45-mile Medford-Ashland link will be the longest single stretch of continuous strip concrete in the country, according to Cement Industry of Oregon.
    Paving of the $2.5 million project is now underway by Fred H. Slate Company and E. C. Hall Company, Portland.
    Cross joints are eliminated by use of heavier reinforcing steel, which binds the concrete and causes tiny cracks at more frequent intervals. To the motorist. these cracks are unnoticeable and virtually invisible.
    Because the concrete is paved at a width of 24 feet, the joint between lanes will be sawed. The only other joints will be installed at the bridges.
    New methods of construction employed on other concrete sections of Oregon's interstate system have also resulted in a bumpless surface. The "bump-bump" which many motorists associate with concrete is a result of the slab-type of construction used for the older concrete highways, most of which were built prior to WWII.
    Another "first" distinguishes the Medford-Ashland project. A ready-mix type of operation is being utilized, rather than mixing the cement in batch machines at the paving site--a procedure followed in all previous concrete paving on Oregon's interstate highway.
    According to the contractor, this system is resulting in a faster paving operation due to elimination of mixing equipment from the train of concrete machinery. Seven ready-mix trucks work in a continuous cycle to maintain a steady flow of concrete on the highway.
Medford Mail Tribune, October 21, 1962, page B1

Freeway Helping Business in Two Bypassed Towns
    The Interstate 5 freeway is helping rather than hurting business, say civic leaders in two Rogue Valley cities that are bypassed by the new road.
    Richard Abbott, president of the Gold Hill Chamber of Commerce, and Larry Sheehan, mayor of Rogue River, both report that the freeway has in fact helped business conditions boom in their communities.
    "Overall, from the time the highway first started to bypass us, we have shown an increase in retail sales of between 25 and 35 percent,"
Abbott said.
    His statement came in response to an article in last Wednesday's Wall Street Journal, which reported that Gold Hill's retail stales had fallen off by nearly 25 percent since the community was bypassed.
    "We're kind of up in arms around here about that article," the Gold Hill chamber president said. "Something like that can really hurt us."
    Mayor Larry Sheehan of Rogue River told the Mail Tribune last month that his city was "booming both in business and population."
    He said he thought the freeway was stimulating growth, making the city more of a "bedroom community" for persons employed in Medford and Grants Pass, because the faster highway made it possible for more people to live "out in the country."
    Sheehan pointed to the fact that there were no vacant commercial buildings in Rogue River and that several new businesses were in the process of moving in.
Medford Mail Tribune, September 23, 1962, page 1

Ashland Freeway Section May Be Open on July 15
    No actual opening date has been set for the section of Interstate 5 from Barnett Rd. interchange to the North Ashland interchange at Valley View Rd. north of Ashland, but state highway department officials here said that they are trying to get the section open by July 15.
    Local engineers reported that paving of the two interchanges for the two Valley View rds. remains to be completed, as well as installing a few signs, guard railing and painting.
    A signal to control Highway 99 traffic at the Valley View Rd. exits for this section of freeway has been installed, it was noted.
    The freeway in this area is of a continuous concrete strip construction, the longest which has been laid in the United States.
    On the freeway section between North Ashland and the South Ashland interchange, grading is nearly completed, engineers report. The contractor tentatively plans to start paving in that area in August. No opening date has been set for this section.
    Valley rains have not hampered construction crews on the South Ashland interchange to [the] Wall Creek section of the freeway, an official of the Peter Kiewit Sons Company, contractor for the project, reported. It was noted that the majority of the material being moved on this project is from the west of the highway to the east side, which will cause some mud on the highway.
Medford Mail Tribune,
June 28, 1963, page 1

Next Freeway Link Set To Open Jan. 13
    Opening of the remaining south end of the Interstate 54 freeway bypassing Ashland is scheduled tentatively for Jan. 15, according to a local highway department spokesman.
    This will take traffic through to the edge of the Siskiyous.
    Center-striping from North Ashland interchange to South Ashland interchange was completed by Friday, it was reported. The shoulders are not paved yet so the shoulder stripes will be painted later from North Ashland to Green Springs interchange. A crew just finished paving the Green Springs interchange Friday.
Medford Mail Tribune, December 15, 1963, page 1

Work Pushed on Interstate 5
    MEDFORD (AP)--As construction work continues on Interstate 5 in the Siskiyou Mountains south of Medford, the California Highway Commission is planning continuation of the freeway in nearby Siskiyou County.
    Included in the California highway budget is $1.72 million for 1.3 miles of Interstate 5 from the Oregon state line. The project, which will join the present freeway construction in Jackson County, is to include one interchange to the community of Hilt, Calif., and the converting of existing U.S. 99 to four lanes of freeway. Completion is expected by late 1966.
    The California highway budget of $612.4 million includes about $100 million for Interstate 5 construction. Of this, five projects in Northern California will connect with completed freeway projects to provide continuous freeway between a point 125 miles south of the Oregon line--near Redding, Calif.--to near Willows, Calif., another 81 miles south.
Oregonian, Portland, November 6, 1964, page 23

Last revised December 11, 2022