Storms take toll on Portland's important rural road network
Multnomah County does not have enough reserve money in its winter maintenance transportation budget to repair all of the roads damaged by this year's storms, including roads in the West Hills that are becoming increasingly important connections between Portland and Washington County.
"These are big unanticipated expenses, different from the big expected expenses that we plan for and build a pot of county, state and federal funds to fix. So we are exploring options to deal with this winter's weather-related road repairs," says county spokesman Mike Pullen.
Although several of the roads were closed by snow and ice late last year, the most serious damage occurred as the result of heavy rains that hit the region in recent weeks. Westside roads that were partly closed by landslides and erosion included Cornelius Pass, Cornell, Germantown, Newberry and Skyline. Northwest Newberry Road is still closed by erosion that collapsed part of a lane and may require the road to be rerouted to fully repair it.
All are part of an informal network of rural roads being used by more and more drivers every day to travel between residential and employment centers in Multnomah and Washington counites, including the high-tech Intel campus in Hillsboro and the upscale Pearl District in Portland. Many drivers prefer them to U.S. Highway 26, which is one of the most congested freeways in the region.
The rural roads were not designed for such increasingly heavy traffic. All are only two lanes wide with no shoulders and either ditches or steep dropoffs on the sides. They also are very twisty with many blind curves.
According to Pullen, Northwest Conelius Pass Road is the most heavily used, carrying approximately 12,000 vehicles a day. But even Northwest Cornell Road, which runs past the offices of the Audubon Society of Portland, is used by about 1,500 drivers a day. And those numbers are growing as additional homes are built in areas served by them and the other roads through the West Hills.
Also damaged by flooding are Lusted and Pipeline roads in East Multnomah County. Both require extensive work to reopen.
Pullen says the county is still preparing estimates on the costs of the repairs and the schedule for completing them. He says the county should qualify for federal and state funds to help with the costs.
"The good news is that we don't have to declare a disaster to qualify for state and federal funds," says Pullen, who believes cost estimates will be finalized in coming weeks.
But, Pullen adds, all of the westside roads have been closed and damaged by storms in the past. Such closures are likely to continue occuring because the county does not have a plan or the funds to upgrade the rural road network in the future. The last plan even remotely related to that was for the Westside Bypass, which died in the 1980s.