Better footing is ahead

·3 min read

Jun. 22—Temporary delays can be expected throughout the Rogue Valley this year as Oregon Department of Transportation begins work on a $4.8 million project to make thousands of intersections throughout the state more accessible for disabled Oregonians.

The Association for Oregon Centers for Independent Living, Disability Rights Oregon and eight disabled individuals sued ODOT in 2016, saying that up to 90% of curbs and intersections in the state were not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

A settlement of the suit required ODOT to survey streets across the state with a qualified consultant and remedy all problem areas by 2032.

"It's a difficult dance to satisfy everybody and get this work done in a timely manner," said Gary Leaming, ODOT public information officer.

Leaming said the phase of the project in southwestern Oregon began last week and will affect 27,000 curbs and intersections throughout the state. Thirty-two intersections in Ashland will be under construction throughout summer and into the winter.

"We're trying to keep everybody connected. Obviously, Ashland is a difficult town to work in, especially during tourist season," Leaming said.

The project has to move at a slower pace than many other construction jobs because accessibility for disabled people must be maintained while the work is being done, limiting construction work to one curb at a time rather than working on an entire intersection at once, Leaming said.

There also are some parts of the city where the project is still waiting for approval for the work or help from the city moving retaining walls and water lines.

Leaming said it can take three days to a week to complete a single curb. The curbs are being re-signed based on input from the disabled community and the department's consultant for the project.

Every curb and intersection is different — some will have tactile yellow pads installed, and some will have continental crosswalks, which Leaming described as Abbey Road crosswalks, to help the vision-impaired. All curbs must conform to a certain slope to ensure those in wheelchairs can safely navigate them.

Despite cramping tourist season in a city like Ashland that is heavily dependent on tourism dollars, the project is important for everyone, Leaming emphasized.

For disabled people, it provides expanded freedom, he said.

Bill Belew, a blind resident of Ashland, has been in contact with Leaming and project officials to keep construction plans focused on the needs of those who move through the world with physical challenges.

"He had to cross the street three times because of his disability," Leaming said, referring to Belew attempting to reach a bus stop near his home.

"When Tolman Creek Road is done, he'll be able it cross it once," Leaming said.

Belew, who recently welcomed a new service dog into his life and plays drums in a local rock band, said the work generally is a step in the right direction. It's a move he and other sight-impaired people in Ashland have been seeking since they lobbied ODOT and the city to install crosswalks downtown that announce when it's safe to cross.

"It turns out adaptations for disabled people often make improvements for everyone else," Belew said, including people pushing carts or baby strollers.

Leaming said his department will work to keep people informed of where the construction work is taking place and when people can expect delays. Throughout the year, work will continue in Phoenix, Talent, Medford, Jacksonville and Grants Pass.

For a complete list of all affected intersections and to stay updated on the project, see www.oregon.gov/odot/projects/pages/project-details.aspx?project=21492.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Morgan Rothborne at mrothborne@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4487. Follow her on Twitter @MRothborne.