Closing Impact

Officials are encouraging people who use the popular Cornelius Pass to prepare now for alternative transportation routes before the closure takes place and to plan for extended commute times once the close is in effect.

The $5.65 million improvement project along the Cornelius Pass is slated for July 15 or later.

Multnomah County officials tell The Chronicle they will likely announce the specific time and day for the closure following detailed preparation work that is now underway.

Multnomah County's contractor Wildish Standard Paving has a number of tasks to complete before the road can be closed and construction can begin, according to the county’s communication’s officer Mike Pullen, who said the road closure target date could be later.

The closure

Multnomah County Communications Officer Mike Pullen said key detour routes need to be set up with signage, including electronic message signs this week.

“We also must complete the installation of the new traffic signal at Highway 30 and NW Newberry Road in the between the Sauvie Island bridge and Portland,” he said. “That signal won’t be activated until the pass actually closes.”

Pullen said following installation, the signal at Highway 30 and NW Newberry Road must be first tested and then approved by the Oregon Department of Transportation.

“It will be on wooden poles with wires holding it and radar detectors to trigger its function,” he said. “So, right now, the pass closing is tentatively set for the week of July 8 with the specific time and day date to be determined.”

County road crews are repairing pavement on NW Rocky Point Road and NW Skyline Blvd with repair work also to take place along NW Germantown Road before NW Cornelius Pass Road can be closed. Pullen said the goal is to improve the condition of the side roads before the closure, since those roadways will carry more traffic when Cornelius Pass Road is closed.

Meanwhile, Portland and Eugene-based contractor Wildish Standard Paving has set up its construction work trailer site at Skyline Road and Cornelius Pass to best coordinate the project that will likely last until October.

Plan now for the impact

During the 11-week project, the pass will be closed to through traffic between Highway 30 and Germantown Road in Washington County. The closure will send about 13,000 vehicle trips each weekday onto other roads.

Officials are alerting commuters, visitors, businesses, and commercial trucking companies that the impact will be felt region wide, including in Columbia County.

Pullen suggests Columbia County drivers use Rocky Point Road or the NW Newberry Road alternative routes to Washington County, which provide left turns onto Highway 30.

“Either route you take, you’ll need to allow more time for your commute, perhaps as much as time 15 to 25 minutes more,” Pullen said. “It will probably be bad the first week but it should get better as people adjust to the new impact to traffic. So, you are probably facing an extended daily rush hour.”

Pullen said the pass closure will mean more congestion region-wide.

The project will impact side road travel, where you will see more congested and longer travel time,” he said.

According to Pullen, the pass improvement project will require traffic delays due to the difficult terrain where the work is being done.

“We believe it is worth the pain this summer because the improvements are designed to reduce the number and severity of crashes in the future,” he said. “This road has a long history of very serious crashes, including fatalities and crashes that delay large number of drivers, due to the lack of alternate routes.”

Law enforcement advisory

Multnomah County Sheriff’s Deputy David McGarry said the pass closure will mean large trucks will be diverted along routes into Portland.

“Which will make traffic worse and make traffic go up routes, such as Logie Trail Road, Rocky Point Road and others, which may cause more crashes,” he said.

Oregon State Police Government and Media Relations Captain Timothy Fox said congestion from the pass closure will be the most widespread impact.

“OSP will do our best, with limited resources, to assist the construction crews and keep traffic moving as safely as possible,” Fox said.

Communications between regional law enforcement agencies and others about how to best deal with the traffic impact of the pass closure began months ago, Fox said. To commuters and visitors who will face the congestion, Fox said patience will be key.

“Plan ahead,” he said. “Realize for things to get better, this has to be done.”

Columbia County Sheriff Brian Pixley said the closure of Cornelius Pass will have a big ripple effect for the residents of Columbia County.

“We have many people who commute to and from the West side from our county and this closure will definitely add to the congestion and commute time.

Pixley said his agency will be utilizing traffic grant funding to enhance patrols in the county.

“The bulk of these issues will not be in Columbia County, but we will do our part to ensure people's safety,” he said.

Pixley echoed the recommendation from Fox and McGarry.

“My best advice is to commuters is one word, patience,” he said. “This closure will be difficult for everyone, but we need to be patient because ultimately this construction will increase everyone’s safety in the end.”

For more information, visit multco.us/cornpass. Read more about the Cornelius Pass in a series of special reports at thechronicleonline.com and in the Wednesday print editions of The Chronicle.

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