By Nathalie Hardy • Columnist • 

ODOT seeks grant to enhance bypass

Work on the first phase of the Newberg-Dundee Bypass isn’t slated to get underway until later this month, but plans are already being made to add a $37 million improvement.

Earlier this month, the Oregon Department of Transportation submitted an application to its federal counterpart for a grant in that amount. The department  proposes to use the money to eliminate a signal-controlled fishhook intersection at the phase’s southern terminus at Niederberger Road, at the southern edge of Dundee.

“From our standpoint, the fishhook has viability quite a ways into the future,” said ODOT Project Manager Tim Potter. “It should be 10 or 15 years before we start seeing congestion at that point,” he said, despite the need for a traffic signal to control the flow.

However, he conceded that solution to splitting traffic between Highway 99W and the bypass at the southern end of the new four-mile stretch would be “less than optimal.” He said the proposed fix at the southern end of the project, which takes off from Highway 219 in Newberg, would be viable for much longer.

A group put together by Parkway Committee Chair Dave Haugeberg plan to make a trip to Washington, D.C., later this month or in July to brief the Oregon delegation and lobby key lawmakers on the proposal. Joining Haugeberg will be Yamhill County Commissioner Allen Springer, Mike Ragsdale, executive director of the Newberg Downtown Coalition, Dundee Mayor Ted Crawford, Grand Ronde Tribal Council Member Chris Mercier, Jody Christiensen, director of McMinnville Economic Development Partnership director and McMinnville Mayor Rick Olson. Stevie Whited, president of the McMinnville Chamber of Commerce, who will be traveling, may also join.

When ODOT revealed its final plans for the $233 million first phase, a major point of criticism was terminating it at Niederberger Road rather than Fulquartz Landing Road to the south — a more natural point.

However, state officials said the cost of extending the bypass would be prohibitive. Given the funds available, it was Niederberger or nothing, they said.

To avoid the inelegant and circuitous access, accompanied by a traffic signal local officials fear would soon become a congestion point, ODOT is proposing a two-part solution:

Northbound Highway 99W traffic would be routed onto the bypass via a right turn lane peeling off about a third of a mile south of Niederberger and climbing over the railroad tracks. Southbound bypass traffic would be routed onto Highway 99W by a series of free-flowing right turns, unimpeded by a signal.

To accomplish the latter element, a second southbound lane would be added to 99W, starting about three-quarters of a mile southwest of Niederberger Road. It would cross Hess Creek via a new four-lane bridge, necessitating removal of an existing embankment and culvert to facilitate fish passage.

Potter termed the new option still preliminary and conceptual, but ODOT’s grant application suggests it shows strong promise.

ODOT says it would take upwards of $750 million to complete the entire 11 miles of four-lane expressway envisioned by planners, and it could take a very long time to secure that much money. A relatively cost-effective fix to the southern terminus of the first phase would buy more time for that, it says.

Haugeberg, leading champion of the bypass for many years, gave the proposal an enthusiastic endorsement.

“What we knew locally was that we needed to get started building, then we could look at how to improve the functionality of the fishhook,” he said. And that time has come, he said.

“We are marching forward with phase one as we know it today, until we hear confirmation on the grant application sometime in September,” Potter said.

Good news then would “galvanize us to action,” he said. Bad news would simply mean “we continue an ongoing search for money to identify funding for modifications to the project.”

As plans stand, the four-mile phase is scheduled for completion in the fall of 2016. It represents the first piece of entirely new highly built in Western Oregon since Portland’s Interstate 205 Bypass in the early 1980s.

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