Consensus emerging for ideas to improve commuter road

by: MARK MILLER - Sandy Prock, project manager for an ongoing effort to design safety improvements on Northwest Cornelius Pass Road in Multnomah County, converses with an open house attendee at the Skyline Grange Tuesday, Feb. 18. Prock, center-right, was one of several Multnomah County employees on hand to speak with the public at the event.About 60 people attended an open house at the Skyline Grange for Multnomah County’s project to improve Northwest Cornelius Pass Road Tuesday, Feb. 18, a county spokesman said.

Mike Pullen said about half of the open house attendees filled out and submitted comment forms to share their thoughts on the project, which kicked off an effort expected to take several years to identify, design and eventually build safety improvements on the heavily trafficked route through the West Hills last year.

“In general, what I noticed — a big theme for me was that there was more agreement that doing some of these improvements was worthwhile,” Pullen said of the comments he heard at the open house. “At past meetings, a sense that I’ve heard from the public is that we need to do something huge or it’s not even worth doing anything. ... I didn’t hear that at all at the open house.”

Pullen added, “What makes me more optimistic than I’ve been in the past is there is consensus that some of the ideas being considered for this project [are] worth doing, will improve safety.”

Cornelius Pass Road travels from north to south, from Highway 30 — which it intersects about midway between Scappoose and Portland — to Tualatin Valley Highway. The road is a busy commuter route despite its largely rural character: it has only one lane traveling in each direction, and no traffic signals or all-way stops, between Highway 30 and Northwest West Union Road in Hillsboro, and there are severe curves in the road at several points, especially in Multnomah County.

The safety improvement project concerns only the Multnomah County portion of Cornelius Pass Road. Washington County administers the road beginning south of its intersection with Northwest Kaiser Road.

Pullen suggested the current project, despite a limited $9.5 million budget he said will not be sufficient to make huge changes, will open the door to a larger safety project later.

“If we are successful in working with the community to get this done, it positions this very important road for more funding later,” said Pullen. He said state Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, who sits on the community advisory committee for the project, told committee members and county staff that “it’s OK to have conversations about what would be a big thing that might be worth doing later.”

The most expensive prospective improvement outlined at the open house would be a reconstruction of the high-volume intersection of Cornelius Pass Road and Northwest Skyline Boulevard.

Converting the intersection, which currently forces Skyline Boulevard traffic to stop for vehicles on Cornelius Pass Road, to a two-lane roundabout would cost a projected $4.6 million to $5.3 million, according to a display at the open house.

The second option, a signaled intersection, could cost either much less — as little as $3.7 million — or slightly more, up to $5.4 million, the display added. The cost depends on how it is designed and built.

“There is still no consensus,” Pullen said, referring to the two options. “I would say more people seem to like the signal.”

One of the open house attendees, and the first member of the public to arrive, was Columbia County Commissioner Henry Heimuller. The county is not officially involved in the project, although Columbia County legal counsel Sarah Hanson, who lives on Cornelius Pass Road, serves on the community advisory committee, as does Johnson, a Scappoose resident who represents the area in the Oregon Senate.

Heimuller spoke favorably of the open house and project at a Columbia County Board of Commissioners meeting Wednesday, Feb. 19.

“I was very pleased to see the number of folks that attended. The interest is great,” Heimuller said. “I feel like the process that Multnomah County has put together there was very credible.”

Pullen acknowledged Columbia and Washington counties’ stake in the project.

“On behalf of Multnomah County, we appreciate the interest by elected officials from our two neighboring counties,” said Pullen, adding, “We know it’s not just a Multnomah County audience that uses the road.”

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