Phase 1 adds capacity; much more is needed

It required vision and a whole lot of persistence for a section of the Newberg-Dundee Bypass to be completed. 

As with any major infrastructure project, contention, compromise and criticism played strong roles in the narrative. But in the end, it’s all about adding capacity for travel and freight in our region that’s practically guaranteed to witness significant growth of both travel and population in the future.

Now that the ceremonial ribbon has been cut, we await in the coming weeks the true opening of the first piece of new highway in Western Oregon since Interstate 205. 

It couldn’t be stressed enough during Monday’s ribbon-cutting event: Success of this project will be fully realized with the completion of Phases 2 and 3. 

County Commissioner Stan Primozich noted the $22 million in state funds recently dedicated to the design of Phase 2 show the state has, at least at some level, a commitment in the continuation of this project. To our Washington, D.C. delegation, he said to remind their colleagues in Congress of the importance of this project whenever possible. The Newberg-Dundee Bypass is currently listed as a high-priority project, setting the stage for greater federal funding in the future. 

It will take similar vision and persistence to move beyond what issues may arise next month. Worries of congestion at both ends of the new bypass will likely be validated somewhat. People will wonder if shaving a few minutes off travel time was worth the massive price tag. 

For the cities of Dundee and Newberg, the investment will certainly have been worth it. Removing half of the traffic — particularly the majority of the freight traffic — from their respective downtowns will allow both communities to revitalize downtown cores that have been hampered by traffic for decades. Some ask how diverting cars around the downtowns could help. Isn’t that fewer potential cutomers driving through town? How many times does one feel like stopping in Dundee now while driving through? It can take 10 minutes simply to cross the highway to find a parking spot during rush hour. The bypass may reduce the total number of drivers but certainly could increase “good traffic” that creates more customers.

And about that capacity: We’d like to dream up a vision of increased public transportation that includes a robust rail infrastructure. But a century of car-centric culture in America just won’t be undone on a grand scale. Technology will lead a shift to more electric vehicles and eventually introduce autonomous cars to the streets on a massive scale. Hopefully, that will be matched with increased mass transportation — which still won’t negate the need for roadway capacity in the decades to come.

Decades. That’s what it took for Phase 1 of the bypass to be finished. It’ll take more decades for the rest to be completed. If and when that time comes, we’ll look back and marvel at how lengthy and difficult the process was. But we’ll be thankful to those who saw it through. 

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