Keeping Oregon's highways safe through the years
One of the most visible jobs that our Maintenance crews do is keep Oregon’s highways clear and passible. For almost one hundred years, dedicated employees work in all sorts of weather around the clock to make travel safe for citizens and visitors.
Recently, Transportation Maintenance Specialist Jeff Chartier with our Santiam Junction Maintenance crew came across these historic photos of a 1937 Oshkosh with two wing blades. This type of truck was used to plow mountain passes like Santiam Pass through the 1950s. The wing blades helped cut a path through the thick mountain snow.
More than 70 years later, Chartier and his fellow crew members keep this same stretch of highway clear for motorists today. Although they now use modern Volvo trucks, the mission and level of dedication remain the same.
Key connector opens on Columbia Gorge Trail
Two events that took place 100 years ago define our relationship today to the Columbia River Gorge.
First was the creation in 1913 of the Oregon Highway Commission, now ODOT. It led the drive toward better roads in Oregon.
Second was the start in 1913 of the work that led to the opening eight years later of the Columbia River Highway, the nation’s first scenic road.
It’s not a coincidence that these events took place in the same year.
A hundred years ago, roads in rural Oregon were little more than muddy, rutted tracks in the landscape. But in early February 1913, Sam Hill, the state’s leading advocate for good roads, brought the entire Oregon Legislature by special train to his Maryhill ranch, east of The Dalles, to show them the good roads that he built at his own expense. He was looking to rally legislative support for a road in the Columbia River Gorge, where motorists could take in the magnificent scenery.
But first, the whole concept needed direction – and that came through establishment of the Oregon Highway Commission, where the work over the last 100 years has gone way beyond the Gorge, of course, to the rest of the state. The Columbia Gorge Highway was monumental, though, as it opened the Gorge to easy access by all Oregonians, to the region and, ultimately, to the world.
The old road became obsolete by the 1950s and was abandoned in favor of the high speed, limited access road that became Interstate 84. The original tunnels and vistas were filled in and demolished, sometimes with explosives.
Appreciation for our cultural history never faded, though, and by the 1980s, ODOT was assigned the job of restoring the old highway. And that task marked a major milestone on Sept. 14, 2013 when more than 200 people – on two wheels, on four wheels and on foot – showed up for the dedication of a new 1.6-mile segment of the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail west of Cascade Locks.
The new section completes a critical link in the trail by opening the way for pedestrians and cyclists to travel from Troutdale to Cascade Locks without using Interstate 84. Ultimately, the trail will extend to Hood River, although the design and funding sources are still under study.
“The Columbia River Highway is really the legacy of the whole Department of Transportation and the whole legacy of the state of Oregon,” Oregon Transportation Commissioner Chairman Patrick Egan said. “The single biggest challenge is when it was first constructed, it was deconstructed. There were tunnels blown up, there were portions of the highway that were just left. We’ve got to restore that. We’ve got the engineering to do, we’ve got re-paving to do, we’ve got tunnels to re-do. And that last 10 miles is really the last bit.”
ODOT has already started studying what to build and how to pay for the next 10 miles linking Cascade Locks with Hood River. These are the steps that will help solidify the Gorge as a world-class tourist destination.
Happy Birthday, Fremont Bridge
In November, 1973, the Fremont Bridge in Portland opened with... a car that wouldn't start! Read the coverage from The Oregonian
, first, about the last time people were free to walk over the bridge
; then about the upcoming celebration
; and then what really happened that day
Bridges are vital to our way of life in Oregon. For more than 100 years, the Oregon State Highway Department (ODOT) has been working to keep Oregon safe and keep Oregon moving.
75 years later, bridge plaque honoring pioneer woman goes to family
At a recent Oregon Transportation Commission meeting, a historic bridge plaque honoring a Harney County woman was presented to her decedents. The Poison Creek Bridge on U.S. 20 in southeast Oregon was named Susan's Bridge by the Commission in 1938.
In 1937, the State Highway Department (now known as the Oregon Department of Transportation) was 24 years into its initial effort to “Get Oregon out of the mud.” One of the highway sections under construction in the southeast corner of the state was U.S. 20 near Burns. And, overlooking the project from her front porch was area pioneer Susan Dixon Whiting. From the comfort of her rocking chair, the 66-year old wife and mother observed contractor M. L. O'Neil and Sons as it constructed the highway and replaced an old timber deck bridge over Poison Creek with a new concrete deck structure, one of the first of its type in the area. Susan’s interest in the project and visits to the work site prompted the contractor to honor her with the first passage over the structure when it was completed in July of 1937. She died only a few days after her proud crossing.
“Mr. Highway” influenced Oregon’s transportation system
As we celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the Oregon Department of Transportation, we’re taking a look back at some of the early innovators in the state’s transportation history. If you’ve ever stopped at the Baldock Safety Rest Areas on Interstate 5 north and south near Wilsonville, then you’ve heard the name Baldock. State Highway Engineer Robert Hugh Baldock was
“Mr. Highway” for Oregon from 1932 to 1956 when the state was completing its large collection of primary and secondary roads, including Oregon’s initial work on the nation’s interstate highway system.
Baldock was a visionary and played a critical role in Oregon’s transportation history.
Credited as a big promoter of innovation in building highways, under his leadership, ODOT adopted geometric highway design in 1936, and it became a national standard in 1946. Geometric highway design established the controlling design criteria that are used in building roads, such as design speed, lane width, shoulder width, bridge width, structural capacity and more.
100 years of transportation safety: learning from the past, working toward a zero fatality future
In 1913 when the Oregon Legislature created the State Highway Department (now ODOT), transportation safety meant Oregonians trying to share dirt roads safely with horses, pack animals, bicycles, pedestrians and the latest technology – automobiles. A lot has changed in the last 100 years, yet one thing has remained the same, our commitment to safety for the traveling public and our employees.
Old employee photograph
Our ODOT Librarian was perusing an old 1977 employee newsletter and found this group photograph (pdf) of our 1929 Engineering staff. They are posing on the steps of the old Capitol building (before it was destroyed in 1935). Talk about an historic picture! See if you recognize any names.
Document ties together past and present
ODOT employee Barbara D. saved the 1920 vehicle registration that belonged to her grandfather, "Mr. Kneebone of Falls City" (note the address, or lack thereof!). "Kneebone" is Cornish and Barbara's great grandparents were tin miners who came to the United States in 1843, after the mining industry collapsed in England. Her mother saved bits of family history, like this registration notice from then Secretary of State Ben Alcott. Thanks for sharing, Barbara! (Click on the image to see a larger version.)
Join us as we celebrate a century of service to Oregon. Send us your transportation history stories and we'll post them on the web. Feel free to include photographs as well. Be sure to include your name and contact information.
New video celebrates the legacy of Conde B. McCullough
As part of our 100th anniversary “Century of Service” celebration, we’ve created a new video (YouTube) showcasing some of the beautiful work of Oregon’s pioneering bridge designer Conde B. McCullough. From 1919 to 1935 McCullough designed and supervised the construction of some of the West’s most beautiful and functional bridges.
The video, produced and shot by Public Information Officer Peter Murphy and Videographer John Kazmierski (shown at left), is just one part of our year-long celebration of the Oregon Department of Transportation’s 100th anniversary.
Over the past century, transportation in Oregon has been characterized by impressive eras of progress; innovators, their creations, and the Oregonians who supported them; and noteworthy achievements that have helped shape Oregon’s highly valued way of life.
By celebrating ODOT’s first 100 years, we are seeking ways to further contribute to our mission of providing a safe, efficient transportation system that supports economic opportunity and livable communities for Oregonians.