Closures to improve dangerous route in Multnomah County will require drivers to detour to side roads, freeways.

COURTESY MULTNOMAH COUNTY - This is one of many trucks that have crashed on the narrow and twisty Multnomah County portion of Cornelius Pass Road over the years.Multnomah County is planning to close Northwest Cornelius Pass Road for four months beginning in June for a safety improvement project.

The closure will inconvenience the increasing number of motorists who use CPR — as it is commonly called — to travel between Multnomah and Washington counties without using the congested freeways. Among those who will be affected are drivers of hazardous material shipments, who cannot use the Vista Ridge tunnel on Highway 26.

Traffic on CPR is skyrocketing. On one stretch in Multnomah County, daily trips jumped from 9,104 in 2011 to 13,201 in 2016, the most recent year for which figures are available. Among other things, CPR has been used by trucks hauling away dirt from expansions projects at Intel's campuses in Hillsboro.

The closure will increase traffic on area freeways and side roads through the West Hills. The county is working on an outreach plan to let those affected by the closure know it is coming.

"We're talking to groups already, and we're developing our outreach plan. We had a public meeting in the West Hills in October. But we will do our major outreach in 2019, after the schedule is finalized. We're focusing now on the most impacted parties, like freight, and will focus on the commuters more in the spring," said county spokesman Mike Pullen.

The $5.65 million project has been planned for years. CPR runs north from the Southwest Tualatin Valley Highway in Hillsboro over the West Hills to Highway 30. The most dangerous portion is in Multnomah County, where it becomes narrow and twisty as it descends to Highway 30. Accidents in this stretch are common, especially trucks going into ditches.

COURTESY MULTNOMAH COUNTY - The aftermath of a fatal crash on Cornelius Pass Road is shown in this undpated photograph from Multnomah County.

Scheduled work includes adding signage, vehicle pullouts, barriers and guardrails, and reducing drop-offs. Several curve realignments also are planned.

The county has decided to close both lanes on CPR for the length of the project to avoid the lengthy delays that would be caused by flagging and reduce the time required for the project. The current plan is to close CPR between Highway 30 and Northwest Kaiser Road to all through traffic from early June through September. Access for local and emergency traffic will be provided up to work zones that have complete closures.

Two sets of detours will be available during the project, depending on the size of the vehicle taking them.

Cars and trucks shorter than 40 feet long can use such side roads as Northwest Old Cornelius Pass Road, Northwest Skyline Boulevard and Northwest Newberry, which currently is closed by a landslide. The county will reopen it before the project starts.

Longer trucks and trucks with hazardous materials must use area freeways for detours, including Highway 30, I-45, Highway 26 and Highway 217.

"We are researching if there is a shorter route that trucks with hazardous loads can use, such as Southwest Jefferson Street, which bypasses the Highway 26 tunnel," Pullen said.

Safety problems apparent

The dangers of Multnomah County's portion of CPR are well known. They were highlighted by the death of 17-year-old Taija Belwood in a single-car crash on that portion of Cornelius Pass Road in December 2008. She died when her car slid off a curve and landed upside-down in a creek, where she drowned. The resulting public outcry led the county to use funds from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to build several safety improvements on it.

After hearing from Belwood's family and friends, the 2009 Legislature authorized the development of design alternatives for improving safety on Cornelius Pass Road. The study — which involved ODOT, the county and a number of consultants — focused on a five-mile stretch of the road between Highway 30 and Northwest Kaiser Road. It found that 171 vehicle accidents occurred there between 2003 and 2009. The largest number, 50, took place at the Skyline Boulevard intersection. Other large numbers occurred at the Highway 30 intersection and along a number of curves between there and Skyline.

The study came up with 13 specific safety improvements. They range from adding lighting to improving the entire corridor to comply with 45-mile-per-hour standards. Costs range from $191,000 to $26.8 million. The total cost of all improvements is more than $60 million, far more than available money at that time. Instead, the 2012 Oregon Legislature only appropriated $9.5 million for safety improvements.

After the ODOT review, a 15-member Community Advisory Committee (CAC) was appointed to provide input on safety issues and consider additional improvements. It was composed of residents of Multnomah, Washington and Columbia counties, and included neighbors, a business representative, commuters and state Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose. The committee met from 2013 until this year.

The 2017 Oregon Legislature decided that the ODOT should take over Multnomah County's portion of CPR. The project must be completed before the transfer can occur. ODOT's Statewide Transportation Improvement Program is providing about 90 percent of the funds, with the rest coming from the county.

Multnomah County has lagged far behind Washington County in maintaining and improving its portion of CPR over the years. More than $55 million has been spent on the Washington County portion since the 1980s, creating a modern four-lane thoroughfare through much of Hillsboro and that encourages travel on the Multnomah County portion.

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