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Volunteer group advising Multnomah County on major road project

by: COURTESY OF MULTNOMAH COUNTY - A map showing what a signal intersection at Northwest Cornelius Pass Road and Northwest Skyline Boulevard might look like from above.A volunteer committee formed to advise Multnomah County on potential road safety improvements along Northwest Cornelius Pass Road decided Tuesday, April 29, to recommend the county pursue plans for a traffic signal at the road’s heavily trafficked intersection with Northwest Skyline Boulevard.

While there was disagreement among the members of the Community Advisory Committee on how high a priority improving the intersection should be, they expressed a general preference for a signal. But the members agreed Multnomah County should explore a less expensive design option than what engineering consultants on the project proposed.

Gabe Crop, a consultant with Murray, Smith & Associates, said that in order to provide greater visibility and control for drivers on Skyline Boulevard crossing or turning onto Cornelius Pass Road, a portion of the former road would have to be rebuilt to reduce a steep grade where it meets the latter road. Otherwise, he said, it would be unsafe for drivers on Skyline Boulevard to pass through a green light at the intersection at speeds over 25 mph.

“Anything greater than that, and they may not be able to see objects across the intersection or stop in time,” Crop said.

Rebuilding the intersection to have a traffic signal would cost about $5.4 million with the new grading, Crop said. Without the grading, the estimated cost drops to $3.7 million.

Bruce Penney, a committee member who lives on Cornelius Pass Road, said he found it hard to justify spending the extra money on the Skyline Boulevard intersection instead of improvements on stretches of Cornelius Pass Road where more crashes have occurred recently, such as in the vicinity of its intersection with Northwest Eighth Avenue and the set of hairpin turns known as the “S” or tunnel curves.

“A lot of this grading on Skyline is really, really expensive. And maybe we could get by with the 25 mph intersection now and change it to a 35 mph intersection just with Skyline grading if, somehow, magic money becomes available. But it just really hurts to spend the magic money on making that a 35 mph intersection today when it means that we’re going to let people die elsewhere on the road,” said Penney, to murmurs of agreement from other committee members.

The committee ultimately recommended moving forward with the $3.7 million signal intersection and asking project staff to determine how best to allocate remaining funds in the project budget, which is $9.5 million. It previously voted to recommend several other road safety improvements, as proposed by the design team, in March.

The signal option was the design team’s second choice for the Skyline Boulevard intersection.

Engineering consultants recommended the county replace the existing intersection, which requires traffic on Skyline Boulevard to stop and yield to traffic on Cornelius Pass Road, with a roundabout large enough to accommodate most truck traffic. They said a roundabout would lead to shorter overall traffic queues at the intersection and lead to a greater reduction in the number of crashes, while costing a similar amount to engineer, construct and maintain.

But the roundabout option never caught fire with the Community Advisory Committee or the trucking community, and members of the public who weighed in at a February open house preferred the signal option as well.

by: COURTESY OF MULTNOMAH COUNTY - A map showing what a roundabout at Northwest Cornelius Pass Road and Northwest Skyline Boulevard might look like from above.Nevertheless, a considerable amount of time at Tuesday’s meeting in the Skyline School gymnasium was devoted to the unpopular proposal, to the dismay of state Sen. Betsy Johnson of Scappoose.

“I feel like this is Groundhog Day. We keep talking about the roundabout,” said Johnson, who both sits on the committee and represents the area in the Oregon Senate. “I think this group spoke rather definitively about the roundabout.”

Multnomah County spokesman Mike Pullen said the discussion of the roundabout Tuesday was to help members of the committee understand the design team’s approach with regard to the intersection.

Johnson said her preference was actually not to reconstruct the intersection at all as part of the current project. She suggested the money that would be spent on the intersection would get “more bang for the buck” if it went toward other road improvements.

“I tend to subscribe to the ‘pass on the intersection and get more improvement for the limited money that we have in other dangerous places,’” Johnson said.

But other committee members and project consultants said it is worth spending money now to bolster traffic capacity at the intersection, which is the busiest that Multnomah County controls on its stretch of Cornelius Pass Road.

“This is the reason that we don’t think that the ‘no build’ scenario ... is really a good alternative,” said Wade Scarbrough of Kittelson & Associates Inc., sharing dire projections of delays of more than 10 minutes at the intersection by 2035 unless it is upgraded. “It’s not a long-term solution. If safety is a concern today, it’s only going to get worse.”

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