Oregon Department of Transportation photo##Aerial photo taken earlier this year of the large fishhook on the south terminus of Phase 1 of the Newberg-Dundee Bypass.
Oregon Department of Transportation photo##Aerial photo taken earlier this year of the large fishhook on the south terminus of Phase 1 of the Newberg-Dundee Bypass.

Ken Dollinger: As the bypass turns

Visions of traffic flowing smoothly between the center of Yamhill County and edge of the Metropolitan Portland area — bypassing Dundee and Newberg on Highway 99W — have existed for decades.

Depending on which source you consult, the concept of a “bypass” first surfaced as early as the 1950s or as recently as the 1980s. In the early 1970s, a bypass plan was actually in place with necessary funding, but county commissioners blocked the project in the name of saving farmland area.

Regardless of its original roots, the bypass existed only as a languishing dream until the early 2000s, when a variety of individuals and interests resuscitated the initial vision.

Proponents, often waxing evangelical, considered the bypass salvation for commerce, growth and progress benefiting businesses, residents and motorists.
The testimony presented by adherents of the bypass painted a picture of a host of small and large local ranging from increased tourism to swift trucking delivery and enhanced employee/executive recruiting.

The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) predicted the bypass would reduce congestion, increase traffic safety, minimize travel times and create jobs.
ODOT’s website states the bypass would, “significantly reduce traffic congestion on OR99W and improve livability and overall traffic flow in the surrounding communities. A full 11-mile bypass is planned to be a four-lane expressway, two lanes in each direction, from Dayton to just east of Newberg.”

Guest Writer

Ken Dollinger a McMinnville resident since 1990, had a 30-year career in writing, photography and editing for daily newspapers, corporations, a medical center and a regional magazine. Now retired, he’s an avid fisherman, happy husband for 51 years and proud grandfather of four.

Equally sincere, opponents argued the promises were overstated, ignoring multiple realities and difficulties. They noted that ODOT’s most optimistic estimates forecast only 40% of Dundee traffic flow would use the bypass — meaning continued traffic problems in Dundee for everyone else.
Then there was irritation that other ideas — simpler and less expensive then the bypass — were ignored.”

Opponents also contended the bypass required massive uncertain funding. This argument against the bypass gained credence when the project, as originally conceived, indeed would cost far more than funding permitted.

Undismayed, proponents insisted on modifications while the advance bypass planning continued. Their view was anything was better than nothing, and improvements could be realized in the future. ODOT planners developed a proposal that included several phases, the first of which would involve only four miles of roadway.

Opponents, on the other hand, viewed the “half-a-loaf” concept as foolishness that certainly would fail to deliver the benefits promised by proponents and ODOT. If the bypass, in the minds of opponents, was ill-conceived, the right idea at the wrong time, it made even less sense to put it in the wrong place and do it the wrong way.

They maintained if the bypass was too expensive now, future costs would be much higher — with no guarantee funding would be there. If the full bypass was unaffordable now, it likely would be even more prohibitive in the future.

The contrast between the two “affordability” arguments was highlighted when even the scaled back version of the bypass was revealed to be short of funding from federal and state sources. It appeared the bypass was teetering on the edge of go/no go.

This development sent bypass proponents into a flurry of brain storming, out of which developed proposals for Yamhill County and its cities to dedicate a portion of gas tax receipts — used to repair and improve streets and roads — to the bypass funding.

County commissioners and city councils eventually approved the bypass funding proposals. (To compensate for the local street project funding gap that resulted, the city of McMinnville asked citizens to approve a special tax issue — a ballot measure that did pass.)

And so, the bypass concept — or at least a four-mile, two-lane version — assumed reality. Construction began from the south end of Dundee on Highway 99W, to the southeast end of Newberg, and through Newberg streets from Highway 219 to Highway 99W.

Today, after three years of major construction and $252 million, the bypass is just days from opening to traffic.

Proponents declare the bypass will deliver on their promises of significant benefits to motorists, businesses, tourists and residents, and that it will be worth all the time, money and effort turn a vision into reality.

Faced with the actuality, opponents can only wait to see the results—good or bad. “I was wrong” makes a bitter meal, but “I told you so” is equally cold comfort.

However, a growing number of citizens and motorists — including bypass supporters — are concerned with the way the bypass will function. While, indeed, traffic will speed along unimpeded for four miles, avoiding the centers of Newberg and Dundee, both ends, in fact, expose significant issues.

In Dundee, the bypass involves a Highway 99W stoplight and a merge lane — in addition to the problematic stoplight and merge lane already at the north end of town.

At the other end in Newberg, the bypass ends at Highway 219. Traffic must navigate several stoplights and turns along Newberg streets to reconnect with Highway 99W.

Opponents anticipate a great deal of congestion; proponents are confident ODOT engineers planned to avoid traffic problems. Motorists and citizens are holding their breath.

A relatively minor issue (unless you are affected by it) are the several traffic control measures instituted by ODOT on Highway 219 at the Sportsman Airpark, and along Springbrook Road. Concrete barricades currently block previously open turns into neighborhoods and even Wilsonville Road. Special effort is now required by residents and first responders (who already had to deal with years of construction closures) to access these “blocked” areas.

But the major question is what happens next. Whether the vision turns into a dream or a nightmare, there may be a monster hiding under the bed.

Will additional phases, toward the entire 11-mile, four-lane bypass, actually be possible? If the first phase cost a quarter-billion dollars hard to come by, will future phases find the necessary funds? How much will construction costs increase? How difficult will it be to obtain rights-of-way?

How much modification, or abandonment, of the now constructed four-mile, two-lane bypass will be required? And, will the tolerance of motorists and citizens be too strained for additional years of construction inconvenience and cost?

It feels a lot like the season finale of a major TV show, ending on a cliff-hanging note and evading a host of dramatic questions unanswered until next season.

Stay tuned!


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