Bypass appears to be well worth the wait
It's been two months since the opening of the Newberg-Dundee bypass, so it may be a bit early to draw any conclusions on its effectiveness, but Oregon Department of Transportation officials appear confident that construction of the thoroughfare formally known as Highway 18 was the right move.
"Our initial numbers are that around 12,000 vehicles on average are using the bypass daily," Lou Torres, public affairs specialist for Region 2 of ODOT, said. "That is very positive news since the average traffic on OR 99W was around 35,000. We can assume that the vast majority of the 12,000 would be using OR 99W if we did not have the bypass. We had estimated that around 20 to 30 percent of OR 99W traffic would use the bypass and it appears that the number may be higher."
Torres said more data, and more time, is needed before ODOT can produce any conclusions on the project.
"For us to get a better understanding, we need to see the bypass function for at least one year ...," he said. "That covers all seasons, including the more heavily-traveled summer season."
As would be expected, the bypass is busiest at the same times as Highway 99W: from 6 to 8 a.m. and 4 to 6 p.m. on weekdays. ODOT has yet to analyze the bypass' effect on weekend traffic.
"What we still have to analyze will be the weekend travel, when events pick up on the coast, at Spirit Mountain (Casino), in McMinnville and at area wineries," Torres said. "That won't happen until we get into late spring and summer. (However), we are expecting the bypass to be extremely popular for many travelers during that time period."
Other good news coming from the band of concrete on Newberg and Dundee's southern flank concerns heavy trucks.
"Of the 12,000 daily vehicles, about 20 percent are large trucks," Torres said. "More good news: we predicted that 50 to 75 percent of large trucks using OR 99W would use the bypass. While it is difficult at this time to say for sure, it looks like we will meet or exceed that mark."
To help gauge that effort, ODOT has installed nine TripCheck cameras to areas on and around the bypass and Highway 99W to help the agency and travelers monitor traffic.
The state agency is also in the process of studying whether the bypass' opening has had a marked effect on traffic in Newberg and Dundee's downtown cores.
"Once again, it is still too early to draw conclusions," Torres said. "However, anecdotally at least, it appears that traffic has decreased significantly on OR 99W in Newberg and Dundee. I've driven the roads several times since the bypass opening and I noticed the change. Staff with the city have said it has been much quieter and much less congested in front of city hall in Newberg. They noticed it by the third day after the bypass opened."
But what does the future hold for the bypass?
The next step, Torres said, will be realignment of the connection between Wilsonville Road and Highway 219, part of the first phase of the bypass project. Once completed, the realignment will direct most of the Wilsonville Road traffic, which is currently using Springbrook Road, to Highway 219 south of the bypass and Wynooski Street. Draft plans are being reviewed, right-of-way purchases have begun and construction is expected in 2019-2020, he said.
In addition, ODOT has formed a team to design the next phase of the bypass, which will stretch from Highway 219 to Highway 99W at the base of Rex Hill. ODOT is applying $10.5 million saved from the first phase of the project to begin "pre-emptive right-of-way purchases on Phase 2," Torres said. The Legislature also allocated $22 million in last year's transportation package toward design of the second phase of the project.