The Infamous Black Bird Southern Oregon History, Revised

The Viaduct Story

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Rogue River Times, February 11, 1955

Location of Freeway Undecided, Highway Engineer Declares
    The state highway department has made no decision as to the location of a proposed freeway in the Medford area, R. H. Baldock, state highway engineer, has reemphasized.
    It will be some time before such a decision is made, he pointed out, and will not be until all facts on two alternate routes are available.
    His statement was in the form of a letter addressed to the Medford city council, and was motivated by a number of letters and petitions "protesting the location of the proposed US99 freeway along Hawthorne Park in Medford. . . ."
Confirms Earlier Story
    His letter confirms in detail a story carried in the Mail Tribune of Thursday, Feb. 24, which quoted W. C. (Dutch) Williams, assistant highway engineer, to the effect that such a decision has not been made, and will in large part be up to the residents of Medford, acting through the city council.
    Baldock added:
    "We are making a survey now for an ultimate route of US99 that can be constructed to the freeway standards required by the federal government. In making such a survey, we must look over all possible routes, and in the city of Medford we are making a study of a route along Bear Creek which would pass fairly near the business district and through the park. We will also make a similar study of a routing that would entirely bypass Medford to the east.
To Check with Council
    "No decision can be reached in this matter until full information from the surveys of the alternate routes is available. With all the facts at hand, the problem will be discussed with the city council of Medford, which is the duly constituted authority of the people of that city.
    "I believe that this matter would be clarified if the press would run a story to the effect that we are now making preliminary studies and that no routings can be selected at this time. . . ."
    The Jackson County Chamber of Commerce has also known an interest in the problem, and the board of directors, meeting yesterday noon, voted to withhold any action on a freeway location until further facts are available, and until after the highway department has completed its surveys.
    A committee report, which was approved by the board, said:
Recommendation Premature
    "Until such a time, your committee feels it would be premature to make a recommendation as to the route for the proposed highway, and would serve only to stir up emotional and unconsidered discussion of the problem."
    The report also pointed out that construction of the route cannot be undertaken until funds are available, which may be 5 to 10 years away, and that there is a possibility that circumstances will have changed considerably during that time.
Medford Mail Tribune, March 11, 1955, page 1

Park Viaduct Opposed
    To the Editor: Members of the Medford Garden Club feel the proposal to build an elevated freeway for Highway 99 along the east side of Bear Creek over and through Hawthorne Park is very alarming to all people who have worked for the park and who love and enjoy its beauty and restful facilities.
    The park is located along the east side of Bear Creek, which gives it a natural setting. Bear Creek will be cleaned up and improved someday, which would enable it to be utilized to its full capacity. Unquestionably, the locating of a freeway along the east side of Bear Creek will to a large extent destroy this natural setting.
Mrs. LeRoy Cline, Pres.
Mrs. C. L. Nordquist, Sec'y.,
Medford Garden Club
Excerpt, Medford Mail Tribune, March 27, 1955, page 4   A similar letter was sent by the Phoenix Garden Club.

The Freeway Proposals
    We have heard a lot of discussion about the route which the proposed new freeway through or around Medford should take. Most of the discussion has been a bit previous, because the State Highway Commission is now surveying one route, and probably will survey another before a decision is made.
    The two routes which have been proposed thus far are (1) an elevated highway down the east bank of Bear Creek, and (2) a bypass route to the east of the city.
    Not long ago E. M. Tucker proposed a variant of Plan 1, which made sense to a lot of people. This would have put the highway down the bed of Bear Creek, with the creek itself confined to a concrete channel under the highway.
    This, he suggests, would eliminate some of the criticism of the route from those who are afraid (with some justification, it must be pointed out) that an elevated route there would destroy much of the attractiveness and utility of Hawthorne Park.
    Perhaps his suggestion should get a more thorough going-over by engineers to determine its feasibility.
    Just recently, we've heard still another suggestion which at first sight sounds logical. This proposal would put the route right through town (as many merchants desire), but would do little to detract from any aesthetic qualities, and wouldn't touch Hawthorne Park.
    This idea is to make the four-lane throughway an elevated highway placed precisely over the Southern Pacific tracks as they go through Medford.
    It certainly wouldn't cause any more howls than would the Bear Creek route.
--Eric Allen
Medford Mail Tribune, April 18, 1955, page 4

Medford Mail Tribune, April 19, 1956
Medford Mail Tribune, April 19, 1956

(Minutes of a Public Hearing by Oregon State Highway Commission on October 25, 1956, relative to routing of a proposed interstate highway through Medford,
    Pursuant to formal notice heretofore given, the mayors of the cities of Medford, Ashland, Central Point, Phoenix and Talent, the State Highway Commission conducted a public hearing at 10:00 a.m. this date in the Auditorium of the Craterian Theatre, Medford, relative to the Commission’s plans to construct a new freeway that will bypass each of these cities, extending with a connection of the existing route of US 99 at a place known as Seven Oaks, approximately two miles north of the City of Central Point, to a connection with the existing route of said highway at a point approximately and one-half miles southeasterly from the corporate limits of the City of Ashland.
        There were about 500 people present representing the cities affected by the proposed improvement.
    Chairman Chandler called the meeting to order at 10:00 a.m. and explained the
purpose of the hearing. At his request, the state Highway Engineer, Mr. W C. Williams, explained details concerning the several routes that have been investigated as follows: Hillcrest Route, Genessee Street Route, Hawthorne Park Route, and West Medford-Oak Grove Route. He exhibited a map on which was shown in colors the locations of each of these routes. He pointed out that the Hillcrest Route is common with the Genessee Street Route and Hawthorne Park Route from Blackwell Hill to a connection with the Crater Lake Highway at which point the routes diverge, the Hillcrest Route bypassing the City of Medford about two miles to the east and continuing southerly to a connection with the Genessee Street Route just north of Ashland. The Genessee Street Route and the Hawthorne Park Route, he said, are alternates that pass through the city of Medford, and the West Medford-Oak Grove Route commences at Blackwell Hill and extends southerly to a connection with the Genessee Street line opposite the City of Talent, bypassing the cities of Central Point and Medford to the west. He mentioned that all of the routes investigated are approximately the same length, the Hillcrest Line being 25.67 miles long, the Genessee Line 25.75 miles long, the Hawthorne Park Line 25.68 miles long, and the West Medford-Oak Grove Alternate Line 25.36 miles in length, compared with 23.72 miles, the length of the existing highway between common points. He estimated the cost of constructing each route as follows: [The first three routes were approximately the same cost, around $18.5 million; the last one $22.5 million.]
    [Representatives of the Fruit Growers League, Medford Irrigation District, Talent Irrigation District, Rogue Valley Traffic Association, and the country agriculture and horticulture agents spoke in favor of the Bear Creek route and against the Hillcrest route as being disruptive to irrigation and taking more orchard land out of production. Otto Frohnmayer reported that Medford hotel, motel, restaurant operators and auto dealers were opposed to the Hillcrest route due to its anticipated effect on business. The County Engineer and Medford City Manager spoke against the Hillcrest route due to the cost of improving Barnett as an access route. The mayor of Phoenix, a county judge and representatives of the Chamber of Commerce spoke in favor of the Bear Creek route. The mayor of Medford, representing the city council, reported that the city council had no recommendations to make as to route. The chairman of the board of directors of Rogue Valley Memorial Hospital, then under construction, spoke against the Hillcrest route. Nine other individuals spoke, mostly against the Bear Creek route.]
    Mr. C. W. Reames, attorney, Medford, headed a group that opposed the Bear Creek
Route. He presented petitions signed by 554 property owners in which the Commission is asked to not place Highway 99 on the Genessee Street or Geneva Street location because of the detrimental effect on the city of Medford, in which they gave as their opinion that the highway should be located either to the east or to the west of Medford, with access roads connections provided for those who wish to enter the city. He alleged that if the highway were routed through Medford it will ruin their city.
Excerpted from the Oregon Department of Transportation web site. The entire transcript is available here.

Petition Signed Protesting Freeway in Medford Limits
    A petition bearing about 70 names representing business interests in Medford will be presented to the state highway commission protesting a proposed Highway 99 freeway route through Medford city limits.
    The petition was circulated by Mrs. J. E. Harper, 716 East Jackson St., Medford, to Medford business establishments. It was prepared and will be mailed to the highway commission by K. G. Denman, Medford attorney.
    Although no specific route was mentioned in the petition, it was in protest to the proposed Hawthorne Park line, following Bear Creek through Medford, and the proposed Genessee route east of Bear Creek within the city limits.
Four Proposals
    The Bear Creek route appeared the "least disfavored" of four proposed freeway lines at a hearing conducted by the highway commission in Medford Oct. 25. Other proposed locations include the Hillcrest route east of the Medford limits and the West Side route.
    The petition stated that an "expressway route through Medford will impede the orderly and attractive growth and development of the city and result in great damage to Medford and to its residents."
    The petitioners added that they "request location of the freeway route anywhere outside the city limits of Medford."
    State Representative Al Littrell, a member of the interim highway committee, announced recently that the highway commission may consider a survey of a route along the foothills, east of the proposed Hillcrest route.
Medford Mail Tribune, November 8, 1956, page 1

    There was every indication at a luncheon given Monday in Medford that Medford's city council will fight the State Highway Commission's decision to run Highway 99 up Bear Creek.
    The council lunched with Tom Edwards, state highway construction engineer, and Frank Morgan, district engineer, ostensibly to hear all the details of the state's plan such as the width of the right-of-way, the effect on Hawthorne Park, the effect on tourist trade and kindred subjects.
    The questioning of Edwards, while friendly, was pointed and indicated that individual councilmen, when they sit down with state representatives to bargain on rights of way through the city, will seek to dissuade the state from their present route.
    Edwards defended the route chosen as the best possible from all standpoints and [as] one that was decided upon after the state had considered and surveyed and gathered reams of data. He expressed the hope that an agreement with Medford could be worked out on an amicable basis.
    From Jackson to beyond Cottage Street, the realigned Highway 99, as planned by the state, will run on concrete stilts, 35 feet high. Four lanes will be provided for on the 66-foot-wide structure, with north and south traffic separated by a barrier.
    To secure rights of way for the road, the highway commission will have to buy forty-two Medford homes as well as deal with individual property owners and the city of Medford and the county of Jackson. Road construction is planned for sometime in 1958, with actual dickering probably going on before that time.
Rogue River Times, February 8, 1957, page 1

    "U.S. 99 will be a four-lane divided highway from state line to state line," [deputy state highway engineer W. C.] Williams said, "with complete access restriction, meaning egress and ingress will be permitted only at traffic-separated interchanges.
    "There will be no cross traffic at grade or any traffic signals on its entire length. It will go around cities and towns."
"Four-Lane Highway Length of Oregon Seen for 99 Route," Medford Mail Tribune, June 21, 1959, page 1

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 great 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 oldtimer 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 the 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 percent are local--and he plans to have hired 160 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 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

May 17, 1961 Medford Mail Tribune, page 1
May 17, 1961 Medford Mail Tribune, page 1

January 4, 1962 Medford Mail Tribune, page 1
January 4, 1962 Medford Mail Tribune, page 1

    This attitude was responsible for ramming a monstrous overpass through our park, thwarting any chance of ever having a beautiful Bear Creek as it lords over our city with its ugliness and noise.
Letter to the Editor, Medford Mail Tribune, November 30, 1965, page 4

Doomsayers About I-5 in Medford Were Right;
Moving it Is a Good Idea

    We hate to say we told you so, but here goes:
    According to Mail Tribune archives from 1956 and 1957, the city had the chance to route the freeway around the city in the first place. On May 14, 1956, a deeply divided Medford Planning Commission debated the pros and cons of a Hillcrest route, along the foothills east of the city, and a Genessee route, through town roughly parallel to Genessee and Cottage streets. Interchanges on all routes were nearly identical, with a north interchange at Crater Lake Highway and a south interchange at Barnett Road.
    The biggest concerns of residents testifying at the meeting involved removal and disruption of orchard and farm land, and destruction of houses.
    A west-side route was initially considered by planners, but state officials rejected it as too costly. A fourth option, the Bear Creek route the freeway follows today, was advocated by some residents, but initially rejected by state transportation planners.
    The Planning Commission voted 4-3 to recommend the Genessee route.
    In October 1956, the Chamber of Commerce weighed in, recommending the Bear Creek route now familiar to us all. Only one member voted no — longtime Mail Tribune editor Eric W. Allen Jr. [See his April 18, 1955 editorial, above.]
    According to the account of the meeting in the Oct. 18, 1956 Mail Tribune, "Sole dissent to the Bear Creek recommendation was made by Eric Allen Jr., who stated that any of the four routes will cause hardship to some people, but that the Bear Creek route, four lanes wide, would inevitably create a division in the city, providing a hindrance to proper urban development in the future, both inside and outside the present city limits.
    "Allen said it would prevent Bear Creek from eventually being developed as a park strip through the city. He also declared he believed that tourists on the Hillcrest route would find it, and therefore the city, more attractive, and would be more apt to stop in Medford if that route is used, than if the freeway were to cut right through town, presenting a view only of business property or the sub-standard type of development which historically grows up adjacent to major highway routes."
    We couldn’t have said it better.
    The rest, as they say, is history. The state Highway Commission accepted the Chamber’s recommendation, voting to build the freeway through town.
    The City Council, which had yet to take a position on the best route, eventually acquiesced, approving a contract with the state on Dec. 30, 1956.
Excerpt, Medford Mail Tribune, February 11, 2001, page 10

Viaduct Construction 1962, December 31, 1999 Medford Mail Tribune
December 31, 1999 Medford Mail Tribune

Last revised January 19, 2022