Cornelius Pass to close for months again this summer
Commuters, get ready.
Cornelius Pass Road will be closed again this summer.
The road was closed last summer to complete long-awaited safety improvements, but that work wasn't completed. In response, for two months this summer, the road will be closed between Highway 30 and Northwest Skyline Boulevard in Multnomah County.
This week, a spokesperson for Multnomah County's transportation department said the closure dates were not yet finalized but would last about nine weeks.
The schedule provided by the contractors in April called for a closure from July 6 to Sept. 4. Earlier in the year, Multnomah County said the closure could last up to four months.
This summer's detour will take drivers from Highway 30 up Northwest Newberry Road to Northwest Skyline Boulevard to Cornelius Pass. Trucks, however, will have longer detour routes.
Wildish Standard Paving, which served as the project contractor last summer, will continue in that role during the coming closure, Multnomah County reported.
Despite its return, Wildish is still at odds with Multnomah County over who is to blame for last year's construction delays. Cornelius Pass didn't reopen last year until Oct. 18 — far behind schedule — and the planned work still hadn't been completed.
The contract between Multnomah County and Wildish assessed the contractor a $6,650 penalty for each day the road's closure continued after Sept. 21, though Wildish has appealed those penalties. Transportation spokesperson Mike Pullen said this week that the appeals process is ongoing.
In April, Pullen said Wildish had been paid $1,712,826, though the county has charged Wildish more than $300,000 in liquidated damages and disincentives for not completing the work on time, Pullen said earlier in the year.
The amount paid to Wildish "does not include costs for the county, the design consultants or right of way. The total costs for those items are roughly $3 million," Pullen said.
The project was budgeted at $5.65 million, with the majority of funds coming from the Oregon Department of Transportation. ODOT will eventually take ownership of the road and be responsible for ongoing maintenance, but the agency wanted Cornelius Pass to be in better shape before it took over.
"Extending construction into 2020 will increase some project costs, such as traffic sign installation, but we don't foresee going far over budget," Pullen said. "The county will need to cover some of the new costs that will be incurred in 2020. There are only two work locations in 2020 and they are both essential to completing the work, so we do not plan to narrow the scope of work."
The project was behind schedule before the road even closed last year. A temporary traffic light was required at Highway 30 and Newberry Road, so while the contractor was waiting on parts for the traffic light, construction couldn't proceed.
Work completed last year included constructing four vehicle pullouts, improving sight distances and shoulders at the Kaiser Road intersection, and improving curves south of Plainview Road.
The Cornelius Pass project also involves replacing a culvert near Northwest Eighth Avenue. Because federal regulations protect fish populations, work in the stream can only occur during a window in the summer when fish aren't traveling through the culvert.
According to a county spokesperson, Wildish built the culvert offsite — which it was entitled to do — but did not get approval on the culvert design in time to complete construction within the permitted window.
The culvert is located along a curve that has been the site of a number of accidents. The project involved straightening the curve where the culvert is located and changing the road alignment, which meant the culvert underneath would also need to be replaced.
Further delays last summer came when Multnomah County and Wildish disagreed about the necessity of blasting through rock on some of the "S curves" just north of Skyline Boulevard and what to do about the rail line and tunnel near the proposed blasting site.
In an August 2019 letter to Multnomah County, a project manager with Wildish said the rock at the "S curves" on the road was not consistent with what the county had claimed.
"Wildish and our subcontractors believe the use of blasting to be a detrimental operation," project manager Sean Williams wrote.
"Time is critical for changes to be implemented," Williams wrote, explaining that the project had already been delayed because of "an unknown and later determined-to-be active railroad line and an ODOT tunnel near the blasting work."
"Work in the area is stalled," Williams wrote in an Aug. 28 letter. "The drilling equipment is standing by for direction from the County for the work."
Throughout the closure, and after the road reopened, Wildish and the county continued to argue over responsibility for the delays. The county denied that rock conditions were different than portrayed.
"At the S curves, the decision by the contractor to not use explosives in the realignment was made so late in the summer that there was not enough time to realign and repave the road before winter weather," Pullen said.
In response, construction was cut short, with the culvert replacement and work on the S curves remaining.
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