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Foundation for fallen teen building alliances

by: Rick Swart, A semi-truck barrels down Cornelius Pass Road in front of a roadside memorial to Taija Belwood, who was killed at this spot last December.

The Taija Belwood Foundation hosted a town hall meeting at Scappoose High School Monday, April 7 to update the community on the progress the foundation is making toward promoting a safer Cornelius Pass Road.

'We also want and need the public's input on how to make this dangerous road safer,' said Jim Smith, Taija's stepfather and foundation member.

Smith made a brief presentation, in which he noted there have been at least six serious crashes on the road since Jan. 1, including one fatality.

According to Smith, the foundation has established positive working relationships with Multnomah County, Oregon Department of Transportation, Columbia County, Sen. Bruce Starr from Washington County, Sen. Betsy Johnson, Reps. Brad Witt and Deborah Boone, plus community members from both sides of the pass. All parties agree the pass is dangerous and it needs to be fixed.

Several options for long- and short-term solutions for the road were talked about at the meeting. The foundation has investigated the possibility of making it a safety corridor.

'The road needs to be straightened and widened,' Starr said. 'Congestion is choking Oregon's economy.'

According to Johnson, ODOT is a willing partner but has a lack of funds to repair and upgrade the road. 'Multnomah County doesn't have the money to fix it; even though the road is located in that county,' Johnson said.

In the short term, Smith said all agencies and parties involved in the Cornelius Pass discussions are looking for cost-effective ways to mitigate the dangers on the road.

'We're planning more traffic patrols and saturation patrols on Cornelius Pass in the very near future, said Tim Moore, Multnomah County chief deputy of law enforcement. 'That will slow drivers down and hopefully reduce the number of crashes.'

Both Smith and Moore discussed the potential for additional signage on the road that could notify drivers of icy conditions.

According to Moore, Multnomah County is planning on making the entire pass a no passing zone and that the road may restriped as early as May.

The next foundation event is 'Rock for the Road,' a benefit concert for the foundation, Saturday, April 12, noon to 9 p.m. at the Columbia County Fairgrounds.