Washington State Highway Board holds its first meeting on April 17, 1905.

  • By Walt Crowley
  • Posted 11/18/2003
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 5617
On April 17, 1905, the newly created Washington State Highway Board convenes its first meeting. Members are State Auditor Charles W. Clausen (chair), State Treasurer C. W. Maynard, and the first State Highway Commissioner, J. M. Snow. The Board will evolve into the Washington State Transportation Commission, which oversees the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT).

Slow Going

Prior to this time, railroads and steamships offered the fastest transportation alternatives. Paved roads were scarce and most public "wagon roads" were built by county and city governments (the U.S. Army also built a number of early "military roads") with little or no state oversight, funding, or other participation. An exception was State Road No. 1, approved in 1893, and intended to cross the Cascades near Mt. Baker and link Puget Sound with the Columbia River in Stevens County. By 1905, the state had expended nearly $132,000 on this and a few other roads with little visible progress.

The state "Goods Roads Association," consisting of teamsters, farmers, "wheelmen" (bicyclists), and led by contractor Samuel Hill (1857-1931), championed reform and expanded state funding. The 1903 Legislature passed House Substitute Bill 30 to create a State Highway Board and appropriate $110,000 for general costs and 12 state road projects. Some critics regarded such spending as "extravagant" and Governor Henry McBride vetoed the bill, which was held over to the 1905 legislative session.

New Drivers

When the new legislature convened, Albert E. Mead occupied the Governor's office. The House and Senate overturned his predecessor's veto on January 24 and 26, 1905, respectively. The statute (Chapter 7) was almost immediately amended and supplemented by House Substitute Bill 25 (Chapter 174), which refined the duties of the new Board and Highway Commissioner, and established rules for competitive bidding. The act passed the lower and upper houses on March 7 and March 9, and Governor Mead signed it on March 13, 1905.

At its first meeting a month later, the State Highway Board affirmed the Legislature's designation of Washington's first dozen state roads as follows:

1: King County-Naches

2: Newport-Orient

3: Chelan-Skagit

4: San Poil-Republic

5: Cowlitz Pass

6: Waterfront (Whatcom County to Blanchard)

7: Snoqualmie Pass

8: Lyle-Washougal

9: Montesano-Port Angeles

10: Wenatchee-Johnson Creek

11: Marblemount-Mill Creek

12: Methow-Barron

More projects would soon follow, but voters rejected the first proposal to fund road construction by bonds in 1922. Road and highway development intensified during the Great Depression, spurring the economy and providing emergency employment. The federal government would become a major source of funding in the 1950s.


Sources: Washington State Legislature Session Laws, 1905, Chapters 7 and 174; Washington State Highway Commission, "A History of the Washington State Highway Commission, Department of Highways, 1889-1959," May 31, 1960, typescript, Seattle Public Library, Central Library collection; Edmond Meany, History of the State of Washington (New York: MacMillan Company, 1909), 292, 308, Appendix III.

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