Appeal to be filed against Pinot-Casino Highway

It appears that the Pinot-Casino Highway (sometimes known as the Newberg-Dundee Bypass, which broke ground last week, although construction does not start until next year) has attracted legal opposition opposing the construction–albeit from an unusual place.

Phase 1 of the project (which will likely be signed as an extension of OR18) runs from an intersection with OR219 south of of Newberg, near Springbok and Wilsonville Roads, to an intersection with OR99W just west of Dundee (you can see a map of phase 1 here). The “full” project calls for a four-lane freewayexpressway (ODOT doesn’t like to call their divided limited-access highways “freeways”, for some reason) from the bottom of Rex Hill (northeast of Newberg) to the present intersection of OR18 and OR99W just north of Dayton; but there’s not enough money to build that, so a “Phase 1” project, with the truncated alignment, was approved as part of the 2009 Jobs and Transportation (JTA) Act, in which various highway-projects were goosed with stimulus money.

The plaintiff in the lawsuit, a local builder named Mart Storm, suggests that the truncated alignment is useless, and that a longer alignment is necessary to relieve congestion in the Newberg/Dundee corridor. Such “independent utility” arguments have been successfully used before to kill off projects with stunted first phases (the West Eugene Parkway is a recent local example)–if a project is broken into phases, federal law requires that the first phase have “independent utility”–in other words, be useful as a standalone project. The purpose of this is to prevent back-loading of the useful parts of a project into subsequent phases, essentially forcing them to be built. (If phase 2 turns out to be useless or not cost-effective, it can simply not be built).

Typically, “independently utility” arguments are often deployed by environmentalists or others looking to kill a project outright.

Looking at Phase 1 of this project–it appears that Mr. Storm has a point–except he’s arging at the wrong end of the project. Storm owns property near Fulquartz Landing Road that would be condemned in order to build the full project (producing a windfall for him), but which is not necessary for the first phase–he is claiming that the failure to run to Fulquartz Landing (a half-mile further south) is “unacceptable”. Storm insists that he is only looking out for the good motorists and residents of the Newberg-Dundee area, and not his own pocketbook. While I’m not a civil engineer, the difference between the Fulquartz Landing terminus and the planned terminus at Niederberger Road is (as far as I can tell) not much. He might have a better argument were the other alternative a full extension to McDougal Junction (the current eastern end of OR18), where ODOT ultimately plans to build a full interchange keeping OR18 and OR99W traffic flows separate.

Mr Storm’s concerns notwithstanding the real problem with Phase 1 is at the other end. The planned eastern terminus of the bypass at OR219, without any connection back to OR99W, will force tons of traffic onto Springbok Road, a local street in Newberg. Either that, or onto Wilsonville Road (and thence to I-5 in Wilsonville), which ought to annoy Clackamas County greatly. As Phase 1 includes no intersections or interchanges other than the termini, for Portland traffic to use the bypass at all, they will have to find some way to get between the eastern terminus and 99W. The project does include some improvements to Springbok Road (which is currently a narrow two-lane collector), but nothing that will enable it to handle high volumes of freight traffic, not to mention the throng of Portlanders looking to go wine-tasting, gambling, or beachcombing, that makes traffic on OR99W so miserable in the first place.

This is the sort of situation that the independent utility requirement is designed to avoid–a partially completed project making things worse rather than not better, and creating a situation where completion of Phase 2 becomes a necessity rather than an option for the future.

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