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Priority designation could help secure funding, but local development may raise cost substantially

An amendment designating the Newberg-Dundee bypass as a “high-priority corridor” has been included in the transportation reauthorization package under consideration by Congress, potentially giving the project more leverage in seeking future funding.

Rep. Suzanne Bonamici offered the amendment to House Resolution 22, naming the full bypass route from Newberg to Dayton as a high-priority corridor. It would join just two other Oregon roads, I-5 and U.S. Route 395 in eastern Oregon, that carry the priority distinction.SETH GORDON - Two phases to go -- As work progresses on the first phase of the Newberg-Dundee bypass, potential private development plans are calling into question the feasibility of subsequent phases of the roadway.

“The construction of the bypass is underway and has great potential to ease congestion, promote freight mobility and provide important multi-modal connections for residents and visitors in the broader Yamhill County region,” Bonamici wrote in support of the amendment. “The success of Oregon’s wine and agricultural industries has increased freight traffic in the region. The bypass seeks to address the difficulties associated with transportation of goods and services and enhance the recovery of Yamhill County’s economically distressed communities.”

She noted the widespread support for the project from state, local and tribal governments as well as the local communities.

While designation as a high-priority corridor does not guarantee funding, it puts emphasis on the project’s importance and could aid in securing funding for future phases.

Oregon Department of Transportation Director Matt Garrett testified in support of the designation, noting that there are six sites along Highway 99W that are in the top 10 percent of the most frequent and severe accident locations.

Bonamici also touched on the route’s importance in evacuation during a natural disaster, such as the much-discussed earthquake that is expected to rock the region in the not-so-distant future.

“We know that the question is not if, but when, an earthquake and tsunami will hit,” she wrote. “This road serves as an evacuation route for the central coast and is being built to withstand a 9.0 earthquake.”

The amendment was included with the House approval of the transportation package, which now heads to the Senate for consideration.

Roadblocks ahead

Meanwhile, as the future of the bypass gets federal attention with priority designation, concerns are growing particularly on the right-of-way purchasing process that would need to occur before any future phase could be built.

A swath of land east of Providence Drive between Fernwood Road and Highway 99W has long been understood to be the proposed path for the bypass phase that would carry traffic from Highway 99W to the first phase under construction on Highway 219.

But with hazy plans on when or even if that phase could happen, property owners with land along the proposed path are considering options besides waiting even longer for ODOT to carry out an eventual right-of-way purchase.

When local developer Mike Gougler began working on the Oak Meadows II subdivision almost a decade ago, he and the city agreed as part of the application that nothing would be built for five years in the path proposed for the bypass, to give time for plans to be formulated.

“We referred to the word ‘corridor’ even though no such legal entity exists, it’s just a line on the map,” Gougler said.

Five years passed, with no more concrete plans for the eastern phase than there were to begin with. That was in 2011, and with nearly five more years elapsed since the agreement ended, development options are percolating given the continued lack of progress toward that phase of the bypass.

“There’s nothing specific yet, but I’m no longer worried about bringing to the city a project (in) what was once a bypass corridor,” Gougler said.

While he could not discuss specifics due to a confidentiality agreement, Gougler explained that the level of discussion is just in the preliminary stage of exploring opportunities for development in the area.

Early last summer the Newberg Foursquare Church received a donation of land between Providence Drive and Chehalem Glenn Golf Course, also along the path once proposed for the bypass, and has been in discussions with the city and other entities about potential construction of a new church building on the site.

As talk continues of development on the land, the city is limited in what it can do, particularly because plans for that phase are not on the books at this point.

“They’ve got a line on the map as to where it’s going to go, but it’s not in their plans,” Councilor Scott Essin said.

Because of the lack of funding and solid ODOT plans, “It’s kind of hard for the city to say, ‘You can’t built on it,’” Council President Denise Bacon concurred.

“If there was a plan and the possibility of funding then of course it would be ridiculous to let people build on it.”

ODOT is of the same mindset, with its hands tied by a lack of funding and no concrete details about when that phase could come to fruition.

“We don’t know when that section of the bypass is going to happen,” ODOT spokesman Lou Torres explained. “We couldn’t go to the city and say, ‘No, you guys need to stop development.’ We don’t have the authority to do that.”

It puts the department in an awkward position if plans ever move forward on the next phases, Torres acknowledged, as purchasing right-of-way will become more difficult should the land get developed.

“It’s definitely going to add to the expense, no question about it, but there’s really not much we can do,” he said.

If the plans for the easternmost phase ever move forward, Gougler said, right-of-way purchases would certainly still be possible even with the development.

“If they came up with the money and decide they want to pay for the right-of-way, they can do it,” he said. “We can’t just leave the property sitting, there’s lost tax revenue to the city and the county as well as opportunities to add some other amenities to the community that could be done by that property.”

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