By editorial board • 

Time to begin pressing for Phase II of bypass

Phase I of the Newberg-Dundee Bypass, the first new addition to Western Oregon highways since Interstate 205, cost $252 million. And it consists of two lanes spanning four miles, thus represents just a start on the ultimate vision — four lanes spanning 11 miles.

Some might question the cost-benefit ratio of a project estimated at $63 million a mile. However, by greatly easing one of the Willamette Valley’s most notorius bottlenecks, it promises to afford benefits for the entire region.

Already, it has eliminated cargo delays deterring commercial and industrial development in affected cities, including McMinnville. It has made commuting north and south for jobs, shopping and tourism significantly more expedient and predictable. It has unshackled the downtown cores of Newberg and Dundee from nightmarish traffic, setting the stage for their revitalization. And it has streamlined the trek from Portland to the casino or coast, making travel vastly more inviting.

This is no time to yield momentum that took 30 years to amass. A window has opened for a renewed push, and we need to do everything to sustain it.

Phase I required construction of 10 bridges, one of them a half-mile long, which served to escalate the cost. Phases II and III should prove more economical.

Last month, the Oregon Department of Transportation released its preliminary estimate for Phase II, which would extend the bypass north through the rest of Newberg, reconnecting with Highway 99W north of Newberg at Rex Hill. It projected a pricetag of $185 million.

That’s a big number. However, we’ve already coped with larger.

And this time we have something special in our favor — a $22 million state allocation for completion of design work projected to take two years, and $10.5 million in cost savings that can be applied to right-of-way acquisition appraised at $60 million. That trims the projected need to $152.5 million.

McMinnville’s major economic development handicap is the Willamette River, second in size only to the Columbia. The sparely bridged waterway thwarts easy access to Interstate 5, principal traffic corridor for the rest of the Willamette Valley.

The Newberg-Dundee Bypass has represented our best hope of better facilitating between the Yamhill Valley and the sprawling metropolis to the north for the past three decades. And for much of that period, it seemed achingly out of reach.

The opening of Phase I on time and under budget earlier this year, capping four years of construction, changed the dynamic. The remarkable difference it has already been making, in its opening months, adds momentum to the drive to finish the job.

Phase I’s northern and southern terminuses both represent compromises that will need facing in subsequent phases. Fortunately, Phase II will address the more problematic northern terminus, proving much harder for Highway 99W motorists to locate and navigate than its southern counterpart.

Separately, ODOT is planning to realign Wilsonville Road to connect with 219 just south of Wynooski Road, and eventually to realign Wynooski to connect at the same point. That should help alleviate future awkward north end connection.

Onward ho!


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