The Benton Franklin Intercounty Bridge Company, a private concern, was granted a franchise to construct and operate the Pasco Kennewick Bridge as a toll crossing in October 1919. Sale of a $450,000 stock issue began on July 29, 1920. It was fully subscribed by May 1921. The 1403 investors came from all parts of the state but Walla Walla businessmen provided 60% of the capital.
The Union Bridge Company of Seattle tendered a bid of $426,000 and was awarded the construction contract. Work began in November 1921 and proceeded on schedule despite the worst winter in forty years. Foundations for the concrete piers were built on bedrock 18- 47 feet beneath the river bottom. The roadway was supported by 1410 feet of steel truss work. The main span, a cantilever structure, rose 50 feet above the river’s average high water mark eliminating the need for a draw span and had a clearance of 432 feet between piers. A long wooden trestle on the Kennewick end and a short concrete structure on the Pasco end made up the approaches and brought the bridge’s total length to 3,312 feet, over half a mile!
The bridge was completed October 5, 1922. Captain W.P. Gray, skipper of the Frederick Billings and former mayor of Pasco, accepted the gracious invitation of chief engineer Charles Huber to join him in the first automobile to cross the span. A crowd of over 5,000 attended the formal dedication on October 21, 1922. The area’s second great highway bridge was christened with a stirring speech by Lieutenant Governor W.J.Coyle and remarks by an official of the Yellowstone Trail Commission who noted that the bridge eliminated the last ferry crossing on that early transcontinental route.
The Columbia Bridge was purchased by the state and the stiff toll of seventy five cents for a car and driver plus ten cents for each passenger was removed on July 1, 1931. The bridge company’s asking price was $750,000 but its stockholders agreed to a $600,000 offer when the state threatened to build its own free crossing or acquire theirs by condemnation. The old toll booth was turned into a float and paraded along the streets of Pasco and Kennewick on the Fourth of July. Governor Roland Hartley arrived for the festivities and gave a well received address hailing the end of the toll bridge era.
Traffic on the old bridge between Kennewick and Pasco fell off after the Blue Bridge opened in 1954 but rebounded by the end of that decade and reached 17,000 vehicles a day in 1967. The record traffic and structural deterioration resulted in a decision to limit use of the old span to cars and small trucks. The cost to the local economy of detouring commercial traffic by way of the newer bridge was calculated at a million dollars a year.
A three man Intercity Bridge Committee,headed by Pasco businessman Ed Hendler, was appointed to solve the bridge problem. The committee hired Arvid Grant and accepted his novel and expensive design for a cable stayed bridge, a concept originated in Germany after World War II but untried in the United States. That span which was subsequently named for Hendler was completed in 1977.
Terms of the federal funding agreement for the Hendler Bridge required the 1922 bridge to be removed upon completion of the new span. Preservationists led by Pasco nurse Virginia Devine waged an unsuccessful fourteen year battle to keep the old span as a historic monument. Two elections and a 1989 court decision finally doomed it. The old green bridge was demolished in 1990.