Unsuccessful legislative proposal would have transferred road to state

by: MARK MILLER - The intersection of Northwest Cornelius Pass Road and Northwest Skyline Boulevard on a foggy morning. The intersection, which currently requires traffic on Skyline Boulevard to stop for traffic on Cornelius Pass Road, is one of several 'hotspots' being studied for prospective safety improvements as part of a Multnomah County road project.Although a Multnomah County project to improve road safety on Northwest Cornelius Pass Road is moving along, officials said this week, it is clear the project’s modest budget will not be sufficient to address all of the needs identified on the West Hills thoroughfare.

The Community Advisory Committee formed to provide public input on the project met Tuesday, March 18, at the Skyline School. The committee “had pretty clear consensus” on certain desired improvements, Multnomah County spokesman Mike Pullen said.

“The purpose of this meeting was to have the citizen advisory committee recommend a package of improvements that would advance to the next stage. It was kind of a narrowing point for the project,” Pullen said.

Pullout areas along Cornelius Pass Road are a safety improvement the committee said is needed.

“Law enforcement doesn’t really have a place to ticket speeders,” Pullen said of Multnomah County’s section of the road, from Highway 30 to just south of Northwest Kaiser Road. “There’s no easy place to pull people over, or even sit with a radar gun and catch people speeding.”

Pullen said the committee also wants improved signage along the road, as well as “roadway delineation” — reflectors along the sides and down the centerline of the roadway to help drivers stay in their lanes in low-visibility conditions and at night.

But the most expensive question the project faces is what to do at the intersection of Cornelius Pass Road and Northwest Skyline Boulevard. The intersection is the busiest one controlled by Multnomah County on the road, according to Pullen; the road’s intersection with Highway 30 is managed by the Oregon Department of Transportation, and the intersections south of the county line are controlled by Washington County.

“Skyline is kind of the biggest cost improvement, and the majority of the committee liked the signal option there,” Pullen said.

Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, who sits on the advisory committee, said the design team’s original proposal of turning the intersection into a roundabout was not well received by committee members and members of the public.

“The roundabout didn’t meet the community’s standards at all,” Johnson said. “There is very little enthusiasm for the roundabout.”

But while the roundabout is clearly unpopular, Johnson and Pullen said, not everyone is convinced that a traffic signal would work best at the intersection. It could cost as much as $5.4 million to put in a signal, according to documents presented at a Feb. 18 open house for the project — more than half the project’s total budget of $9.5 million.

Johnson said her preference would be to use the current project’s budget to make improvements all along the road, and then come back and fully address the Skyline Boulevard intersection in a later project.

“Everybody acknowledges that that road is a problem,” Johnson said. “Everybody also acknowledges that there’s not a lot of money.”

“Everyone involved admits it’s not going to make all of the safety problems go away,” Pullen said of the safety improvement project.

During the short legislative session this year, Johnson and Sen. Bruce Starr, R-Hillsboro, who represents much of the Washington County section of Cornelius Pass Road, made a play for additional state funding. Their proposal would have ordered Multnomah and Washington counties to negotiate with ODOT to transfer control of the road between Highways 26 and 30.

“Both Washington County and Multnomah County were OK with giving the road to ODOT,” said Johnson. “ODOT was a little less enthusiastic.”

Johnson argued that because ODOT does not allow trucks carrying hazardous material through the Vista Ridge Tunnels on Highway 26, heavy truck traffic is instead routed over Cornelius Pass Road to get through the West Hills. The road now carries far more traffic, especially truck traffic, than it was designed to do, she said.

“There’s a huge volume of traffic that goes across that road every day,” Johnson said. “And so there is a school of thought that says ODOT has some responsibility for this, in that the trucks can’t go through the tunnel.”

In the end, though, Johnson’s Senate Bill 1502 failed to advance through the Oregon Legislative Assembly in time for the end of session on March 7. The senator said she expects the proposal will be revived in 2015.

As for Multnomah County’s safety improvement project, Pullen said it will continue to move forward.

“What happens now is the project team gets together, and the things there are consensus on, they will move forward to begin the design work,” Pullen said.

Later this year, likely in August or September, there will be another project open house and more concrete cost estimates and design work will be shared with the public, according to Pullen. Under the project timeline, construction of safety improvements is set to begin in 2016.

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