THE DALLESí COLUMBIA RIVER BRIDGE
The Dalles has been an important transportation hub since the pioneers first began to settle the Oregon Country. Here at the end of the trail survivors of the long trek from Missouri chose one of the two routes to their final destination in the Willamette Valley, down the Columbia by boat or over the Cascades via the Barlow Road on foot. The Army built a military road from here to Fort Simcoe on the Yakima reservation after an 1858 uprising. The Cariboo Trail began here. Oregon cattle were driven 800 miles over it to provide food to the hoard of miners working the diggings in British Columbiaís interior.
The Dalles was named seat of Wasco County when it was established in 1854. The new county included all the territory of Oregon between the Cascades and the Rocky Mountains. One of the first items discussed by the county court judges, the name for commissioners in those days, was the establishment and regulation of a crossing on the Columbia at The Dalles. The court granted Justin Chenowith a license to operate a ferry on July 3, 1854. Chenowith was required to pay a five dollar fee and required to follow a schedule set by the county court; fifty cents for foot passengers, $1.50 for a team and wagon, twenty five cents a head for sheep and hogs and $1for pack horses.
Agitation for a Columbia River bridge began early but took nearly a century to come to fruition. The town charter, approved by congress in 1856, contained a provision allowing the territory to construct such a bridge but the legislature failed to act. Private toll bridge companies were formed in 1865 and í70 but failed to raise the necessary capital on both occasions. A city bridge commission proposed a publicly financed bridge in 1880. A $50,000 bond issue was approved but when initial studies determined that the cost of completing the project would be far higher, plans for the crossing were scrapped. The bridge issue lay dormant for four decades. The Oregon Washington Toll Bridge Company was organized in 1921 but its plans were soon shelved in the face of opposition from the ferry operator who challenged the legality of a privately operated toll bridge. Another private concern spent a dozen years trying to sell enough stock to finance a bridge before giving up in 1936. The city financed yet another study in 1938. It hoped to secure funds for the crossing from the WPA but its application to the federal government was rejected.
The Dalles Chamber of Commerce, under the leadership of Wallace Nelson, launched the campaign that finally succeeded in getting the bridge built. It lobbied for and obtained passage of legislation authorizing the state highway commission to build interstate bridges in 1941. The commission, after study, pronounced the project economically viable in 1944 but further action was delayed until after the war. The Washington Highway Commission agreed to support the bridge in 1947. The Chamberís bridge committee and the county court commissioned bridge engineer Ralph Tudor to make a preliminary study of its proposed project. He recommended it be sited at Covington Point, three and a half miles east of the city. The states and Wasco County agreed to joint funding of surveys and design work in March 1948 and a contract for this was awarded to Senge & Tudor Consulting Engineers of San Francisco. Wasco County decided to build the crossing as a toll bridge when the state of Oregon informed it that funds for a free bridge would not be available for several more years. Legislation authorizing counties to issue bonds for construction of interstate bridges was sign by Governor McKay in 1949 clearing the last roadblock to a county run project.
The county took over operation of The Dalles ferry service on July 1, 1950. C.T.Smith, the operator since 1921, received $300,000 for his franchise. The buyout was a prerequisite to acceptance of the construction bonds which were backed solely by the toll revenues to be collected from bridge users and the financier demand protection from any possible competition.
The Guy F. Atkinson Company began construction at Covington Point in January 1951.The site became a point of contention between bridge builders and dam builders soon afterward. The Corps of Engineers began talking of a need for modification of the bridge design to accommodate the dam it was preparing to build nearby. The Corps released a sketch of the proposed dam with a portion of the bridgeís northern approach built atop the spillway structure but scrapped that proposal and required relocation of the entire bridge when its studies concluded that there was a high probability that spillway discharges would undermine the spanís piers. Work on the crossing came to a halt on February 4, 1952 at the time all piers were in place and the structure was 29% complete. The federal government offered the county $895,000 for the land and completed structures but no compensation for additional expense to be incurred by rebuilding on a new site at Three Mile Rapids. The offer was rejected and condemnation proceedings were settled out of court in July 1952. The county received a settlement of $1,994,000 and issued an additional $500,000 in bonds to complete the structure.
The firm of Atkison/Ostrander submitted a low bid of $2,478,480 and began construction at the new location in December 1952. The country was in the midst a Korean War related steel shortage and acquiring enough material to fabricate an entirely new structure was out of the question. The builders faced a difficult task in adapting the old bridge to the new site. The original plans called for the span to be lower at the Washington end than at the Oregon end, the opposite of the orientation required at the new site where piers four and five which support a 576 foot cantilever portion of the structure over the shipping lane differ by 33 feet in height. The alignment problem was solved by reversing the existing construction plans. The 1080 foot truss built for Covington Point was too short to bridge the river at the new location. The fabricator Judson/Murphy/Pacific had to scour the country for enough steel to complete an additional 280 foot continuous truss that would link the north anchor arm with the Washington shore and a 124 foot plate girder approach on the Oregon end of the bridge. The two dozen piers and abutments were built in shallow water or on exposed rock a task easily accomplished with the use of coffer dams. Piers four and five are an integral part of The Dalles Dam forming the guide walls for the entrance to the damís navigation lock. Erection of the steel superstructure began April 9th and was completed on November 3, 1953.
The ferry service came to an end just six months short of its centenary. Captain George Pepper ran down the colors for the last time on December 18, 1953 and a final shriek of the Annabelle Sís whistle signaled the ribbon cutters to open the bridge. The governors of both states led a procession across the bridge to the north end where the crowd of celebrants witnessed the initial concrete pour for the dam.