ODOT to assume control of Cornelius Pass Road
Northwest Cornelius Pass Road will transfer to Oregon Department of Transportation jurisdiction this spring.
Portions of the road are currently owned by Multnomah County (between Highway 30 and Northwest Kaiser Road) and Washington County (between Northwest Kaiser Road and Highway 26), but the transfer to the state has been expected for years.
Once the transfer is finalized, which is expected to be in March, the road will become a state highway, officially signed as Oregon Route 127.
ODOT will install new route signs along the road, likely soon after the transfer is complete, ODOT community affairs coordinator Hope Estes said.
The major construction that closed Cornelius Pass during parts of summer 2019 and 2020 was a prerequisite for ODOT to accept responsibility for the road.
The Multnomah County Board of Commissioners formally approved the transfer in December. It will be finalized after a vote from the Oregon Transportation Commission.
The transfer was planned in a 2017 bill titled Keep Oregon Moving. Area legislators — including state Sen. Betsy Johnson of Scappoose — felt that ODOT "was better positioned than Multnomah County to make major improvements to the road," according to a county press release.
The road has been the site of many crashes over the years, some fatal — like the 2007 death of 17-year-old Taija Belwood, whose mother spent years advocating for improvements to the road — and others less serious, like repeated incidents of semi-trucks tipping over when trying to make tight turns.
Though the road starts at Highway 30, or St. Helens Road, in Multnomah County, it is heavily used by trucks and Columbia County residents who commute to Washington County. Washington County residents also use the road to commute to jobs in Scappoose and Northwest Portland, or as a route to the St. Johns Bridge to North Portland.
The ownership transfer didn't involve any money changing hands between ODOT and Multnomah or Washington counties. The transfer "has no direct construction or maintenance costs and there is no funding for the project," an ODOT project webpage stated.
ODOT and the two counties are in the design stage for a new project called Cornelius Pass Road Arterial Corridor Management. The project will make "Intelligent Transportation Systems" improvements along Cornelius Pass between Highway 30 and Highway 8, also called the Tualatin Valley Highway.
That stretch of Cornelius Pass is 12 miles long. Eight of the 12 miles are included in the jurisdictional transfer.
The 2021-2024 Statewide Transportation Improvement Plan, the state's funding process for highway improvements, includes $2.8 million for the project. In comparison, the safety improvements made between Highway 30 and Northwest Old Cornelius Pass Road were budgeted at $5.65 million.
Of the $2.8 million, just over $544,000 was budgeted for design. Construction is budgeted at just under $1.5 million, and "other" costs are budgeted around $800,000.
According to the STIP project report, the improvements will include variable message signs, rural curve warning systems, and rural weather stations.
Estes said there are no other projects planned for Cornelius Pass in the current STIP.
Once the transfer is complete, the road will be subject to ODOT standards for maintenance, signage, illumination, and more. However, Estes said, the department doesn't expect the change in standards "to make much of a difference in what people see and experience compared to today."
For managing winter weather, ODOT will consider the road at a level of priority below freeways like Interstate 5, meaning it will be plowed after ODOT clears 1,260 lane miles on its top-priority routes. Multnomah and Washington counties currently classify the road as a "primary route" for winter road maintenance.
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