History of Interstate-5 Bridge
Mammoth Bridge of Steel Across Columbia Breaks the Last Barrier in Pacific Highway-Thousands Witness Opening Ceremonies - Samuel Hill, Father of Pacific Highway, tells of Conception of Mammoth Bridge -- Formal Cutting of Ropes and Unfurling of Flags Dedicate it to Traffic
Excerpts from The Vancouver Columbian, Feb. 14, 1917.
"The last unfinished link in the Pacific Highway was welded today, and in the welding of that link the great highway became one unbroken artery of commerce, extending from British Columbia to the southern line of the United States. In the forging of that link the great commonwealths of Washington and Oregon, the two commonwealths of Multnomah and Clarke county, clasped hands across the broad bosom of the majestic Columbia and thus joined in one community in which there is no break or impediment in the free intercourse of traffic and commerce.
"Dreams do come true. Men who yesterday dreamed of this bridge and set about with earnest work toward its accomplishment, today find their dreams a reality.
"Never before in the history of the city of Vancouver has there been such a great number of visitors within her limits. Vancouver today is host to the two states. And Vancouver and her people rejoice with all the people in the consummation of this great public improvement which means progress for these two great commonwealths.
"The parade from Oregon arrived at the end of the bridge a little later than was scheduled and there was met and escorted to the center of the bridge, where the ceremonies were to take place. The parade from the Vancouver side extended from Tenth street to the bridge and crowds of people from all parts of the county and all parts of the state filled the sidewalks and the bridge approach. It went forward on the bridge and met the delegation from Oregon at the draw.
"The ceremonies were brief, but impressive. Mr. Samuel Hill, founder of the Pacific Highway Association, was introduced by E.E. Board of this city, master of ceremonies. In introducing Mr. Hill, Mr. Board said:
'We here today, in these clasped hands, graphs as one this great shaft of steel and etch upon the scroll of time and history these great words: ...Unity, Freedom and Progress '
Mr. Hill spoke very briefly. 'Today,' he said, 'is the day when Oregon reaches out her hand and takes back her child Washington, to whom she gave birth over fifty years ago. This day belongs to both commonwealths and to the Union, and to all who may travel up and down these shores. I pronounce this bridge open as long as the world shall last.'p> "He gave particular praise to the loyalty and self sacrifice of citizens of both states who have aided in the furthering of the bridge. As soon as Mr. Hill ceased speaking, Rufus Homan, chairman of the bridge commission, gave the signal for the cutting of the rope. The dainty Misses Eleanor Holman and Mary Helen Kiggins loosed the knots. At the same time, Miss Enid Carson and Miss Louise Miller on the Vancouver side and Walter Evans, Jr., and Arnold Muck on the Portland side, at the firing of a salute from the government dock unfurled the four big flags on the towers.
"Thus was the Pacific Highway bridge formally dedicated to the service of the states."
Across the Wide Columbia - Interstate I-5 Bridge
By Coleen Bauman, Clark County History, 1990. Published by Fort Vancouver Historical Society of Clark County and reprinted by permission of Clark County Historical Museum
The original railroad bridge plans of 1890 were to include an upper wagon road. This plan was scuttled when the bridge work was abandoned. As work began anew in 1905, citizens clamored for the wagon bridge once again. However, James J. Hill refused to build the upper deck and even threatened to take his bridge elsewhere if the subject was not dropped. Still, railroad men afterwards "...said that they were never so surprised in their life as when they were permitted by the Vancouver people to build their bridge without a wagon road. A committee began at once to agitate for a wagon bridge across the Columbia at some other more accessible point.
The real needs of the community became apparent and a definite movement began for the wagon bridge on June 30, 1905, the day of the "Vancouver and Clarke County Day" at the Portland World's Fair. Close to 2,000 people attempted to cross the ferry during the morning hours and there was a blockade. The ferry wheezed back and forth and a string of cars was held in waiting on the opposite shore. Vancouver Mayor E.G. Crawford, not happy with his wait, gathered about him the bridge committee and after discussing the lack of transportation decided to "push" the bridge at every opportunity. A committee appointed from the Vancouver Commercial Club presented the idea before the Portland East Side Business Men's Club.
This pioneering work was instrumental in the calling of a meeting Jan. 29, 1909, at which were present twenty-five businessmen from Portland, including J.H. Nolta - known as "the father of the bridge" - and several from Vancouver. Resolutions were adopted to appropriate $5,000 from each state for a preliminary survey and estimates for a bridge.
The next step was on February 12, when the legislative committees from the two states met and passed a resolution favoring the bridge. The Washington state legislature passed the resolution, but it failed to get through the Oregon legislative body by a vote of 14 to 12.
The plan having failed, the citizens then became more determined and raised a fund of $2,500. Carrying this, all in gold, and banners that read "We want the Bridge and so do you. We've done our part. Now you come Through!" more than 300 marched to brass bands to call Portland's attention to their desire for a bridge. "Following the parade a meeting was held at the Portland Commerce Club rooms where the money was placed on the table and speeches made inviting Portland to 'get in the game and do it now.' Portland 'came through' and before one month had her share raised."
The organizations of the two cities appointed a committee to raise $5,000 by popular subscription for a survey and estimate on the bridge. The money was quickly raised and on April 10, 1912, Ralph Mojeski, the famous bridge builder, was secured. He gave his report in June and placed his estimate cost of the bridge at $2,000,000.
In 1913, both legislatures finally passed the bills, and Oregon's governor signed their bill. However, Governor Lister vetoed the Washington bill and held it until it was too late to pass it over his veto. Clarke County then took the matter into its own hands and immediately started a campaign to bond Clarke County almost to the limit for half a million dollars. On July 14, 1914, the Supreme Court of Washington legalized the sale of the bridge bonds as voted by Clarke County; the county then sold its bonds on Dec. 14, 1914.
Actual work was started on March 6, 1915, with a big program of speeches and the first shovelful of earth being turned on Hayden Island. The first piling was driven on May 11.
Material used in the construction of the spans was assembled on scows on the Washington side. When erected, each span was floated out and placed in position on the piers on Dec. 6, 1917.
During the building of the two bridges, the ferry had continued to faithfully give service and had helped in the construction of the bridges. While the bridge building was ensnarled in problems, so too, were the ferries:
"In the Portland-Vancouver area, companies for some time provided ferry service without licensing their franchises with Clark Co., Washington. Typical of the stiffening attitude of County governments, that jurisdiction around 1906 threw down the gauntlet to the Pacific Railway Company which controlled transportation facilities in the area. Certain of Portland backing, the powerful company threatened Clark County commissioners with word that no other company or persons would be given docking privileges on the Oregon shores since it controlled the rights to it.
"In December, 1907, Pacific Railway, Light & Power Co., successor to the Pacific Railroad Company, became owner of the Portland-Vancouver ferry operations under license of its predecessor. PRL&P had asked for a five-year lease; Clark County granted one but for six months; it wanted to keep close tabs on the powerful monopoly.
"On January 6, 1909, the company applied for a five-year lease; Clark County granted it one but only for a year. On Jan 4, 1910, it granted it one for a three-year period. With the three-year license safely in its pockets, the utility began to inch its ferriage rates upwards. Clark County auditor ...inquired of prosecuting attorney... if the license couldn't be revoked since PRL&P hadn't abided by a May 1, 1906 agreement on ferriage rates. The matter was dropped, but some Clark County commissioners had qualms about granting licenses to the monopoly for any extended period of time."
Original plans for the Interstate Bridge called for it to be completed by October, 1916, but ice and high water delayed contractors for several months.
Finally, the long-sought-after "wagon road" across the Columbia was opened February 15, 1917. More visitors were in town than at any other time, and the day was touted as the greatest day in the history of Vancouver. Samuel Hill's brief speech and the untying of the bow knot of the ribbon, loosening the rope that barred the crush of people from the bridge, opened the ceremonies. A huge orderly parade of 40,000 people filed across the 3,500 foot span, while Sheriff Biesecker and his deputies and Chief of Police McCurdy and his force kept the crowd moving along good naturedly, although at times the crowd "...almost crushed them..."
Vancouver Mayor Milton Evans commented that the next effort should be toward making the bridge free; the toll was 5 cents. His sentiments were heartily echoed. Frank Morrison of the Evening Telegram predicted that "Smoking factories and business of proportions now unthought of will line the banks of the Columbia near Vancouver in the days of the coming generation. The bridge represents the matrimony of progress and enterprise." Fred Boalt of the Portland News felt that the bridge would become as famous as Niagara Falls. It was a full day of celebration and "The eating houses and hotels of Vancouver were taxed to the limit...in due time everybody was fed."
Amidst all this joyous revelry over the new bridge, the faithful ferry made her last run from Vancouver to the Oregon side with Captain Frank Stevens piloting this last trip, as he had piloted others for 38 years. PRL&P had renewed its ferrying license in 1913, but the opening of the Interstate Bridge ended not only conflict between the company and Clarke County officials over ferry boating, but the ferryboat era itself.
Prior to the bridge's dedication ceremony, a trial run for the first streetcar to cross was on Jan. 24, 1917. Track had been laid along First Street and up Main, over to Washington and back to the bridge in a loop. After the dedication of the bridge, the streetcars were placed on a regular schedule between Portland and Vancouver and continued until 1940. Later in that year, asphalt was poured over the tracks; portions of track were still hidden under the pavement until 1990.
Regular trips by private lines of auto stages did not begin until 1924, and several stage lines were added after that time. During the period when tolls were collected, the passage of horse-drawn vehicles decreased from over 4,000 to a mere dozen or less per year, while passenger automobiles increased from nearly 750,000 to over 2,000,000. 4,083,854 persons passed over the bridge during the tenth year of toll operation, an increase of 1,859,000 over the fifth year of toll operation.
Many considered the toll deplorable and agitated to make the bridge toll free. Taxpayers, however, contended that the bridge was a financial and paying investment belonging to the citizens of two counties and had been licensed by an Act of Congress as a toll bridge and as such could not be made free unless sanctioned by an Act of Congress. An injunction was instituted by a Clarke County taxpayer and a hearing was conducted before three federal judges at Tacoma.
The judges ordered the case dismissed. The commissioners were advised to hasten the transfer of title before an appeal to the Supreme Court could be completed. The commissioners transferred the title, deeding the title of the bridge to the two states with the states assuming all indebtedness and the state of Washington paying to Clarke County the sum of $250,000 for outstanding bonds and interest. Each state agreed to pay and share expense of upkeep on the bridge after January 1, 1929, and on that day the bridge opened toll free.
Discussion of a second span began in 1948 and, like the first two structures across the Columbia, this one also took many years for the idea to come to fruition. Finally, in 1956, work began on the new west span. The new span was given a "humpback" so that more boats were able to pass beneath it without opening. In 1958, the new span opened to traffic and the first one closed for refurbishing. The old bridge was also given a humpback to cut down on bridge openings.
However, even with the new span's design, the bridge openings in that year totaled 4,255, seven hundred ten of them during rush hour, causing a total traffic delay time of 400 hours and 15 minutes.
In January, 1960, traffic began flowing on both the old and the new spans, but with this blessing came a 20 cent toll for cars, 40 cents for light trucks, and 60 cents for heavy trucks and busses to pay off the $14.5 million bond issue to finance construction of the new span and reconstruction of the old one. Drivers complained of the "traffic jam" at the toll booths, hindering their speedy progress down Interstate 5. The Columbian of January 11, 1960, remarked, "Now Russia has its 'Iron Curtain', Asia has its 'Bamboo Curtain', and Vancouver-Portland have a 'Toll Curtain.'"
Traffic count had gone up to 33,800 daily in 1957 from 20,800 in 1953, when the highway officials first began keeping track. Probably as a result of the same rebellious spirit that had kept Clark County citizens fighting for their bridges and against tolls, the traffic count went down to 33,000 in 1960, the year the toll went on. But in just seven years, in 1967, the count was up to 56,800. This was the first full year that the toll was off and the count was up 11,000 a day more than the previous year.
I-5 Bridge earns spot in history
By Jim Stasiowski © Columbian Publishing Company
The next time you curse the Interstate 5 Bridge because of the traffic snarl of the narrow squeeze, do it a bit more reverently, please.
What used to be just a bridge is now a slice of history.
It recently earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. It is one of 60 bridges in Washington to be tapped for the honor this year.
The register is a listing of sites, structures and objects from throughout the 50 states that have particular historic significance.
Significance, however, does not prevent anyone from widening, improving or tearing down the bridge, according to David Hansen, an Olympia spokesman for the National Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation. The only restriction is that the nature of the change has to take into account the historical qualities.
Those who look down the years will find a wealth of history surrounding the pale green span. Though it's taken for granted today, the bridge was nothing but a dream 70 years ago.
With Vancouver providing the impetus through its Chamber of Commerce, plans for a crossing of the Columbia River were first drawn up in 1912. Five years later, on St. Valentine's Day 1917, The Columbian was able to print the poetic banner headline, "With Iron Bands We Clasp Hands," as the span opened to traffic.
A Riveted Performance
Stories by Thomas Ryll / Columbian staff writer © Columbian Publishing Company
It has weathered decades of wind, sun, rain, snow and ice. It has shaken in perpetual earthquake under the weight of millions of vehicles.
It has survived, with no more than a bruising, assaults by objects floating and rolling. Like many of its kin, it has been a platform for the occasional suicide.
And while the Interstate 5 Bridge is showing its years, highway engineers pronounce it healthy. "For its age, it's in pretty darn good condition," said Bob Sork, area bridge maintenance engineer with the Oregon Department of Transportation.
That age, as of Friday, officially will be 80 years. The span, presently the northbound lanes, was opened on Feb. 14, 1917. The 3,523-foot-long structure was jammed with people as 40,000 celebrated the end of long waits for ferry passage between Oregon and Washington.
The northbound span's bolted and riveted labyrinth of steel framework is essentially original except for the "humpback" portion, added from 1958-60. That portion matches a similarly raised section of the 1958-vintage southbound span. The humpbacks allow passage of smaller vessels, thereby preventing traffic-interrupting bridge lifts.
The cost of the first span, shared unequally by Clark and Multnomah counties, was $891,005.45. For the first decade of its existence, the cost of maintaining and operating the bridge totaled $441,069, not including interest on the bonds that paid for the project.
Today, that much money covers about eight months' expenditures for labor and routine maintenance costs. Oregon administers the bridge operation, but costs are split 50-50 with Washington.
Long gone from bridge finances is the income raised by tolls. The first toll, initially 5 cents a car, remained in place from 1917 until 1929. In January 1960, a second toll -- cars and light trucks 20 cents -- was reimposed to pay the cost of building the southbound span and refurbishing the northbound span. After six years and a campaign by promoters who distributed "Free Bridge" buttons, the toll was removed.
Julian Sharon's 1940 history of the area includes an entry on the bridge, and noted that the abolition of the first toll in 1929 was unsuccessfully fought by taxpayers who judged the fee "a financial and paying investment belonging to the citizens of the two counties."
Although highway officials such as Sork say the original span is in good shape, they list three major projects as necessary to preserve and improve the structure and its operating systems. The needed work and cost estimates:
.Painting, at the stunning estimate of $16-$18 million. The problem is the lead-based coating previously used on the structure, and the danger of releasing it into the environment. "They'll probably almost have to build a tunnel around the bridgework, sandblast it to bare metal, suck up the material, bag it and haul it away," said Sork.
. Repaving the bridge's three lanes and replacing signs, $3 million.
. Upgrading the electrical system, portions of which date to 1917, $1.5 million. "Sometimes we find stuff that even shocks us. It's definitely not up to code," said Sork. "You get a good stiff rain and you don't know if it's going to work."
. Earthquake-resistance retrofitting, perhaps $5-$10 million. Ranking lower on the priority list than the other projects, this item is one affecting many bridges.
As for how long the bridge might last, "With careful maintenance, it would probably last --gee whiz -- good question," said one Oregon engineer, adding, "Twenty to 50 years?"
BRIDGE LIFTS, PESKY BIRDS AND A GHOST STORY
Time for a raise: Over the course of a year, there are one or two bridge lifts a day. When the river level is high, the number of lifts increases because some vessels can no longer sail beneath the bridge's fixed humpbacks. January's count was 90, roughly three times the number of a low-water month such as August, said an employee at the bridgetender's office.
Lifting it up: The bridge's twin lift spans are hoisted by electric motors with a capacity of about 50,000 pounds per span. That is far less than the spans weigh, of course, so the lifting process relies on concrete counterweights weighing 300 tons each. The counterweights hang on cables that run over sheaves, or pulleys, at the top of the north and sound ends of the 190-foot-tall lift spans. Atop the counterweights can be seen stacks of two sizes of concrete blocks, weighing 2,000 pounds and 100 pounds. As the traffic wears away the road surface, the blocks are removed from the counterweights to compensate, thereby keeping the lift span's balance weight within the capability of the lift motors.
Birds: The bridge is home to uncounted thousands of starlings that roost at night and fly off in the day. For years, bridge workers valiantly waged an occasionally bizarre fight to evict the birds. "That was a lost battle. The birds won," said bridge maintenance manager Bob Sork. One of the stranger efforts involved an electronic noisemaker and speaker system. Abandoned years ago, the device supposedly imitated a bird of prey. Judging by its effect, it worked like a homing beacon for the starlings.
The trouble with birds: Doo-doo. For decades, bridge workers routinely raised the bridge to lower the counterweights for late-night water-pressure cleaning and greasing of cables, pulleys and other guano-encrusted parts. With concerns about knocking old grease and bird excrement into the river, "I don't think we'll be doing that any more," said Sork. Now, scraping and collecting is the less palatable solution.
Getting the hang of it: Pat Jollota is curator of the Clark County Historical Museum and teller of ghost stories...
It's said that a man in a black coat and hat is seen walking the bridge at odd hours. That's easy to explain, says Jollota. Mayor Grover Percival in 1921 walked over the bridge and hanged himself on Hayden Island. Some motorists probably have felt the same urge during rush hour.
One bad pun: If you've read this far, you probably should be rewarded with a truly awful pun.
Jollota is preparing a display on the bridge's history, to open Friday at the museum, 1511 Main St. She is unrepentently calling it, "Get Your Teeth into Our Bridgework."
Bridge Closure News.