“People wanted a transcontinental railroad. This was because it was absolutely necessary to bind the country together. Further, it was possible, because train technology was improving daily. The locomotives were getting faster, safer, more powerful, as the cars became more comfortable..”
– Nothing Like It In The World by Stephen Ambrose
Radio re-creation of bridge opening courtesy of John Barber
The 1905 Expo in Portland caused a massive traffic jam at the Columbia River steam ferry, which sparked widespread demand for a bridge. John Switzler ran the Portland – Vancouver ferry before the construction of the Interstate Bridge.
By 1914, with a great deal of bi-state local support, the Washington and Oregon state legislatures approved the sale of bonds to fund the Interstate Bridge. The original bridge cost a little under $1,790,000 with Clark County voting overwhelmingly for the issuance of $500,000 of bonds and Multnomah County issuing bonds for $1,250,000.
On December 30, 1916, the Interstate Bridge opened to foot traffic due to bad weather and ice on the Columbia preventing the ferry from running.
On January 24, 1917, a streetcar made a trial run over the new bridge. Streetcars had regular schedules between Vancouver and Portland, and continued until 1940 when asphalt was poured over the tracks.
The 100th anniversary of the I-5 Bridge was celebrated on February 11th, 2017. John F. Barber, a sound artist who works at the Creative Media & Digital Culture program at Washington State University Vancouver, created an audio re-creation of the bridge opening. He developed and maintains Brautigan: American Dust, The Brautigan Library, and Radio Nouspace.
John’s A Mighty Span broadcast re-creation is a 15:00 sound installation invited by the PDX Bridge Festival. His Re-Imagined Radio is inspired by research and creative practices in the areas of audio drama, radio art, radio drama, soundscapes, sound art, and sound poetry.
This 1917 view of the bridge shows the earlier passenger ferry, shot from the Vancouver side.
Located at River Mile 106.5, the original bridge is 3,531 ft long with the lift span between towers 250 ft wide and 150 ft high above ordinary high water. The interstate Bridge originally had a toll of 5 cents for motorists and people riding animals. The toll ended in 1929.
Two little girls in white stockings and high button shoes pulled loose the bow that opened the first bridge. The same pair, 41 years older, untied the bow that opened the new $6,815,000 span in 1958. Tolls for the 1958 bridge of 20 cents were collected until 1966.
When the 1958 span was constructed, the bridge was modified to include an arch in the center span to allow most barge traffic to pass under without requiring a lift. When the new span opened in 1958, the original bridge was closed for two years to add a matching humped section. (more at page bottom)