Law creating Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) takes effect on September 21, 1977.

  • By Kit Oldham
  • Posted 3/15/2005
  • Essay 7274
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On September 21, 1977, the Washington State Department of Transportation comes into being. The legislation creating WSDOT is the culmination of years of effort to transform the Department of Highways into a multimodal transportation agency combining responsibility for all forms of transportation. In addition to the Highway Department, WSDOT takes over the responsibilities of the Aeronautics Commission, the Toll Bridge Authority, and the Canal Commission, as well as some functions of other agencies. The new agency is guided by a State Transportation Commission, which replaces the Highway Commission established in 1951.

By law, the seven-member Transportation Commission consisted of four members from the west side of the Cascade Range and three from the east side. No more than four members could belong to the same political party. The initial commissioners were the five former Highway Commissioners -- Ray Aardal (1926-2010), Julia Butler Hansen (1907-1988), Howard Sorenson, Virginia Gunby, and James Swinyard -- and two additional commissioners appointed by Governor Dixy Lee Ray (1914-1994) -- Vaughn Hubbard and Robert Mikalson. Subsequent commissioners were to be appointed to six-year terms by the governor, subject to confirmation by the state senate.

Smooth Transition

At their first meeting, on September 21, the commissioners chose Ray Aardal of Bremerton as chairman. The vice-chairmanship went to Julia Butler Hansen of Cathlamet, the former state legislator and congressional representative who played the lead legislative role in formation of the Highway Commission 26 years earlier. The Transportation Commission named William A. Bulley (b. 1925), who had been Director of Highways since 1975, as the first Secretary of Transportation.

The transition from the Department of Highways to WSDOT went smoothly as Bulley and his Highways management team remained in comparable positions in DOT. Former Aeronautics Commission Director William H. Hamilton became Manager of Aeronautics in the new DOT Aeronautics Division. Transit and rail planning functions were transferred to DOT from the State Office of Community Development. In all, about 15 employees from other agencies joined slightly more than 4,000 from the former Highway Department to make up the initial DOT roster.


Transpo News, Washington State Department of Transportation, Vol. 28, No. 5, October 1977, pp. 1, 12; Harold Garrett, "A History of Highways," typescript dated December 14, 1993, pp. 6, 15 (copies at Washington State Department of Transportation Library and University of Washington Suzzallo-Allen Library); 1978 Annual Report Transportation Agencies ([Olympia]: State of Washington, 1978), 3-4.

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