Work is underway on phase one of a major bypass project aimed at alleviating traffic on Highway 99W so visitors can enjoy the scenery without the traffic stress.
Landscapes don’t come much prettier than the lush rolling wine country in Yamhill County, Ore., but there’s nothing scenic about the traffic jams that clog the old highway through the northwestern towns of Dundee and Newberg.
Now work is under way on phase one of a major bypass project aimed at alleviating traffic on Highway 99W so visitors can enjoy the scenery without the traffic stress.
“This is a huge project,” said Lou Torres, Oregon Department of Transportation spokesman. “For one thing, we haven’t really built a lot of new highway in recent years. This is one of the largest projects we’ve done in recent memory. Where the major part of bypass is to be constructed, there were about 80 to 90 right-of-way acquisitions. There will be many more. It’s safe to say there will be hundreds of jobs. That includes family wage jobs for construction workers. And there are the indirect benefits such as the workers using restaurants and other businesses in the community. Then there are the economic benefits we hope will occur when the bypass is finished. The community gets its downtown back again. There are lot of benefits.”
There’s been talk about building the bypass for decades, Torres said. But funding of the estimated $753 to $880-million project has always been an issue. Then in 2009, the Oregon Legislature passed the Jobs and Transportation Act (JTA) which included $192 million for the $252-million phase one of the project. The bypass is the largest project to come out of the JTA.
The first phase has been divided into four major construction contracts. That was done to allow for local job creation, Torres said.
“The smaller contracts allow the local contractors to bid as prime contractors and not just sub-contractors. With tree clearing and mitigation contracts, the project will have seven construction contracts,” he said.
Last summer, LaDuke Construction of Talent, Ore., won the first major contract. Hundreds of trucks daily moved dirt out and rock in to the site.
Hamilton Construction of Springfield, Ore., recently won the second major contract for construction work this summer. Hamilton will be responsible for building the western end of the bypass, including six of the 10 bridges on the project.
While the truck traffic is certain to have an impact on the community, there will be no road closures and the traffic pattern will not be affected.
“Virtually all construction is off the highway,” Torres said. “It’s all brand new road. But because we are building a brand new road, one of the biggest challenges is that all the truck traffic has to move off 99W into the project area and back out. We have to use some of the local streets to do that, and that means noise, dirt and dust. Safety is a very big issue. We are going to be driving on these residential streets, so we have to drive slower, be aware of kids and pets in the streets. When Hamilton starts on the next contract, we will be moving a couple hundred dump trucks a day in and out of there. It’s a lot of activity. When the next contract gets awarded it will be for the Newberg and they will see the same thing.”
It will be a challenge over the next three years of work, Torres said. But the payoff should be worth it.
“The reduced congestion alone … traffic will decrease by 20 percent in Newberg and 40 in Dundee. The decrease of freight traffic will be 45 percent in Newberg and 68 percent in Dundee. The travel time during peak periods on 99W will be reduced by 50 to 60 percent. The local businesses like wineries will be able to enjoy more people coming out. Traffic on 99W has been a real issue, especially on weekends and during the summer. Now with the bypass, people who want to go to the coast can just get on the bypass and avoid the downtowns. Just removing the truck traffic will be really significant as well. It will make it a smoother and faster drive to get from Portland to the coast.”
Contractors have already built one bridge, using large cranes to put the bridge beams in place. All the major construction equipment you’d expect are being used on this project, Torres said. They are moving the equipment in on large flatbed trucks. But once in place, the equipment will stay on the job site for much of the duration of the construction.
Phase one is slated to be completed in 2017. It will extend 4 mi. (6.4 km) and feature one lane of travel in each direction. But that’s just the start.
When the project is completed, the bypass will stretch 11 mi. (17.7 km) over four lanes with four interchanges and approximately 64 bridges.
“We didn’t have the funds to do the four lanes, but that is what it is designed to be,” Torres said. “We’re just building a third of it right now. When we have additional funding we add the other phases.”