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Bypass savings allocated for second phase land purchase

The second phase of the Newberg-Dundee bypass project came a step closer to fruition last week with its addition into a state transportation funding program.

The Oregon Transportation Commission, a citizen policy-setting body for transportation projects statewide, voted June 16 to add the next phase of the bypass to the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) and to allocate some funding toward the first steps on Phase 2.OREGON DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION - The next phase of the Newberg-Dundee bypass is planned to run northeast from Highway 219 to Highway 99W at the base of Rex Hill.

About $10.5 million in savings on Phase 1 construction has been earmarked for what Newberg Mayor Bob Andrews described as “seed money” for the right-of-way purchase required for the next phase, which would run from the Phase 1 terminus at Highway 219 north to Highway 99W near the base of Rex Hill.

The commission received letters of support from the mayors of Newberg, Dundee and McMinnville, Yamhill County Commissioner Stan Primozich and Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde tribal council chairman Reynold Leno.

As with all bypass-related issues, money was the primary driver of the latest action. The savings on Phase 1 construction were not fully realized until all the contracts went out.

“There was nothing going to happen for the second phase until we began to see a light at the end of the tunnel with funding,” Andrews said. “Then the advent of a possible sale and development in the corridor helped accelerate further action.”

An agreement between the city of Newberg and local developers a decade ago ensured no development would take place on the land proposed for the eastern phase for the following five years. Nearly 10 years later, without certain plans for Phase 2 funding, talk of development has grown and has been a frequent topic of discussion for the Yamhill County Parkway Committee, the group of area stakeholders that discusses all things associated with the bypass.

Development on the would-be bypass path could make right-of-way purchases cost-prohibitive. On the other hand, without certainty about where the funding would come from and without a timeline, the city can’t tell property owners not to develop their land as they see fit.

The STIP inclusion is a step toward hammering down that certainty.

In the Oregon Department of Transportation’s request to the OTC, director Matt Garrett provided some background and specifically mentioned the development pressure in the right-of-way path, noting that “one or more vacant parcels of land along the Phase 2 alignment are proposed for full development in the immediate future.”

The latest action, he said, is an attempt to avoid the increased cost that would come if the land gets developed before ODOT can purchase it.

“Upon commission approval of this STIP amendment, ODOT will immediately begin discussions with property owners about acquisition of right of way for Phase 2 by purchase, condemnation, agreement or donation,” Garrett wrote.

“Phase 2” has in the past referred to the stretch from Dundee to Dayton, but in ODOT’s more recent conversations with local groups including the parkway committee, the connection from Highway 219 to Rex Hill is now agreed to be the second phase, largely for the same concerns over obtaining right-of-way before the cost increases.

Although he said it was highly speculative, Andrews estimated the new funding might pay for one-third to one-half the cost of the right-of-way for Phase 2.

“It isn’t the entire right-of-way, but it is a reasonable chunk of it,” Andrews said.

ODOT spokesman Lou Torres said it’s an important step to get Phase 2 into the STIP, as it gets the project higher on the priority list. For example, when federal funding through the gas tax becomes available some of the proceeds can get funneled to the bypass.

“This is all good news, any time we can find additional dollars and we can start to move it into the STIP process,” he said, although he added that construction on the project is still a good distance in the future. “All those things are positives, but we’re still a long ways from breaking ground on Phase 2.”