PORTLAND — The good news is that the Newberg-Dundee Bypass is well into construction.
The bad news is that it won’t help a bit to alleviate the dreaded state Highway 99W crawl through the cities over Memorial Day weekend, as Portland drivers head to Yamhill County wine country, Spirit Mountain and Chinook Winds casinos and the Oregon coast.
Relief won’t happen until late 2017 when the four-mile bypass, currently under budget and ahead of schedule, will siphon traffic out of the cities onto a new section of Oregon 18.
The $262 million project is the largest new highway, with a big impact on Portland-metro area drivers, that the Oregon Department of Transportation has built since Interstate 205. That goes back to 1982, when the Glenn L. Jackson Memorial Bridge opened across the Columbia River.
Examples of other more recent highway projects in the state include alternatives to U.S. Highway 97 through Bend and Redmond.
The southern bypass of Newberg and Dundee, with its one traffic light and two travel lanes, has been talked about for years. There was even a proposal to build a private toll road, but the project in construction is a state highway with no fee to drive. The Legislature got the ball rolling in 2009 by passing the Oregon Jobs and Transportation Act. Ground was broken in 2013.
When driving west, the bypass will leave 99W on Springbrook Road at the east end of Newberg, then rejoin the 99W at the west end of Dundee. This is phase I of an 11-mile bypass, with other sections planned on both ends of the current construction. Future phases are not funded, so there is no time line for them.
The bypass under construction is a limited access, two-lane highway. Bridges are being built to accommodate four lanes of traffic, if and when funds are allocated to add two more lanes.
ODOT estimates that 50 to 70 percent of truck traffic in the area will move off 99W onto the bypass, with 35 to 40 percent of overall traffic shifting out of the two downtowns. That will allow the cities to re-envision their downtowns.
“Both are planning to take their downtowns back,” said Louis Torres, an ODOT spokesman for the project.
Since the bypass is new route construction, disruption is minimal except for those who live nearby. Flaggers stop traffic on 99W in Dundee to let trucks haul building material, but not on weekends when traffic is heaviest.
The widening of Springbrook Road south of 99W, which will begin this winter, will have one of the largest impacts on an existing travel corridor in the project.
The new bypass will have 10 bridges, including one that is a half-mile long and 22 feet above ground. Sound deadening walls will be installed where necessary and some of the bridges will have artistic designs and sculptures to reflect the beauty of the surrounding hills.
The design of the route was done by ODOT engineers, taking into account a low water table, a working railroad, an airport (the highway will pass it at subgrade) and the Willamette River being a few hundred yards away in one location.
“We’re using state of the art environmental systems in the construction, with drainage features to control erosion,” Torres said.
The highway will be built for a 55 mph speed limit, without sidewalks or bike lanes. Cyclists will benefit from the project by having an easier ride through the towns with the lessening of traffic on 99W, according to Torres.
Keep current with construction progress at newbergdundee.org.