Cornelius Pass closes for safety upgrades
A segment of Northwest Cornelius Pass Road, a popular shortcut for commuters between Washington County and Northwest Portland, closed Monday, July 22, for dramatic improvements.
The improvements are focused on areas where crashes occur. They involve straightening out some of the sharp curves, increasing sight distances for drivers and adding guardrails in a project that is scheduled to last just under three months.
Cornelius Pass Road started out largely as a lightly traveled rural road straddling both sides of the West Hills. In the intervening years, traffic volumes on this curvy and winding connector between the job centers of Washington County and Portland, Scappoose, and Vancouver, Wash., have soared.
"We've had a long history of crashes on Cornelius Pass Road, including fatal car crashes, and the funding for the project is the result of a teenager from Scappoose who died on the road a number of years ago," said Multnomah County spokesman Mike Pullen. "Through a variety of twists and turns, we're finally able to get to this project. It's largely the result of a number of very serious crashes."
The road's history is rife with accidents involving cars and trucks unable to navigate sharp hairpin turns. The $5.5 million project focuses on straightening out some of the sharper turns.
Pullen could have been referring to one of two different incidents, both fatal crashes that claimed the life of a 17-year-old Scappoose girl.
Taija Belwood crashed off the road after striking a patch of snow and ice on New Year's Eve 2007. Her death prompted a campaign to make the road safer.
Multnomah County was still planning safety improvements that resulted from Belwood's fatal crash by May 2015, when Kerrigan Clark's car went off a cliff near the top of the pass and crashed down a ravine, killing her. That incident spurred renewed calls for the road's longstanding issues to be addressed.
In 2017, the Oregon Legislature voted to transfer the Multnomah County portion of Cornelius Pass Road to the Oregon Department of Transportation.
ODOT is providing about 90% of the money for the $5.65 million improvement project.
The closure to through-traffic extends from Highway 30 to Old Cornelius Pass Road on the Washington County side. One detour will route cars onto Newberry Road onto Skyline down into Washington County using Northwest Old Cornelius Pass Road.
Officials hope the project will improve driving safety on the increasingly populated roadway.
Workers hope to have the new and improved Cornelius Pass Road reopened by the end of September.
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