With the first phase of the Newberg-Dundee bypass slated to open in a matter of months, hundreds gathered over the weekend to get an up-close view of what has been more than two decades in the making.
The event, billed as "Play on the Bypass," began early Saturday morning with a 5K run/walk that traveled a southwestern loop toward Dundee. More than 285 runners and walkers enjoyed the event under cloudy, but dry skies, and the atmosphere was celebratory.
"It was wonderful to see, well organized and … it was just fun to walk it, knowing someday all the cars will be here," said Annie Lee, a Newberg resident.
Once the run/walk was completed, hundreds of local residents curious about the mammoth $275-plus million project joined dozens of representatives from the Oregon Department of Transportation, Chehalem Park and Recreation District, city of Newberg and others in strolling about on the thoroughfare that will soon divert traffic from downtown Newberg and Dundee streets. The first phase stretches from Highway 219 north of Wynooski Street and reconnects with Highway 99W just south of Dundee.
"We get this piece finished and actually get it open in the early part of winter … then we go to work on the physical and the political side of getting the funding to do the next phase, which would be from (Highway) 219 to the about the base of Rex Hill," said Newberg Mayor Bob Andrews, who took office in January, 2007.
The celebration was a long time coming. ODOT began the process in 1994 by convening a pair of stakeholder committees that examined more than a dozen routes proposed for the thoroughfare. That process continued for several years before the route was chosen, then it was up to agencies ranging from the Federal Highway Administration to Yamhill County and the Oregon Division of State Lands to sign off on the route. Once that process was completed the real work began: securing funding for the first highway to be built in Oregon since construction of I-205 in the 1970s. ODOT officials, local dignitaries, state representatives and senators and others began the painstaking process of seeking funding and, finally, a package that saw contributions from entities as small as the cities of Newberg and Dundee, Yamhill County and the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde to as large as the federal government ponied up nearly $300 million in cash to begin the project. Construction began in 2013 after several years of right-of-way purchases, design work and mountains of paperwork.
Katie Castelli has been part of that process since 2011. ODOT's senior engineering geologist on the project, she said Saturday it is gratifying to see pavement on the ground and anticipates the opening of the first phase later this year. Her job was to lead the subsurface investigation of the land where the thoroughfare would be constructed, ensuring that the foundation for the overpasses, bridges and road beds were stable and up to the task.
Longtime Newberg resident Mauri Macy took the opportunity to dust off his recumbent bike and ride the route Saturday.
"I've been watching (construction) with interest," he said. "I ride up here and watch them build. It's seems like a slow process … the completion (of the entire bypass) probably won't happen in my lifetime."
Macy remarked that riding the route on a bicycle, much like he does when he participates in the Portland Bridge Ride, is a perfect way to really understand and appreciate what goes into constructing such a structure.
"And then you never forget … and so I'll have this picture when I drive this," he said.
ODOT and other officials won't soon forget the monumental costs in constructing the state's newest highway.
"When you start doing the right of way, you do the preliminary engineering for all the roads, that's a pretty expensive piece," Andrews said, referring to the $22 million earmarked recently for the next phase of the project. "I don't know how we've allowed these types of infrastructure to get so expensive, but they certainly are."
Lee, who recently retired from a 35-year career as a teacher, summarized the excitement many felt Saturday afternoon surveying the long ribbon of concrete and steel.
"And I have to say I'm so excited because I have been waiting for this bypass since the '70s, when I was at Linfield," she said.