Washington Legislature authorizes construction of limited access highways in 1947.

  • By Cassandra Tate
  • Posted 11/08/2004
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 7125

In 1947, the Washington Legislature adopts a compromise on the issue of limiting access to heavily traveled highways, authorizing the Highway Department to control access on new roads but not on existing ones.

Department engineers had been pressing for access controls for several years, in an effort to reduce the risk of accidents caused by vehicles entering and leaving the traffic stream. Engineers were particularly concerned about the Pacific Highway (today’s Highway 99) between Tacoma and Everett. Increases in both the speed and the volume of traffic had made the highway one of the most dangerous in the state. In the early 1940s, the department began trying to convert the highway to a four-lane, limited access road. However, local property owners resisted the conversion, on the grounds that it would make it more difficult to get to and from their property.

After rejecting one measure to control ingress and egress to state highways in 1945, the Legislature approved a more modest bill two years later. The legislation stipulated that access could be limited only on new routes; existing roads would remain unrestricted.

Despite resistance from the Legislature, the department went ahead with its plans to reduce the hazards on the Pacific Highway by turning it into a limited access roadway. The matter eventually ended up in court, after a Kelso property owner filed a complaint about the convoluted route that had been proposed to provide access between the highway and a motel he planned to build. The Washington Supreme Court upheld the law’s restrictions. The decision forced the department to temporarily set aside its plans to convert existing highways and instead develop new limited access routes between Tacoma, Seattle, and Everett.

The high costs of rerouting rather than simply upgrading roadways led the Legislature to amend the law in 1951. The new law allowed the department to acquire property along existing highways (and thereby close access to the highway) through condemnation proceedings. Even so, the conversion process went slowly. By 1954, the state had completed only 416 miles of limited access highways.


Paul Dorpat and Genevieve McCoy, Building Washington (Seattle: Tartu Publications, 1998); Darlene K. Sharar, "Access Management: A Balancing Act Between Access and Mobility," Washington Department of Transportation website, accessed November 7, 2004 (http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/eesc/design/ access/Currentupdated.ppt); Twenty-first Biennial Report of the Director of Highways, 1944-1946 (Olympia: State of Washington Department of Highways, 1946); 1947 Wash. Laws, Ch. 202; 1951 Wash. Laws, Ch. 167.

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