Washington State Highway Commission holds its first meeting on July 9, 1951.

  • By Walt Crowley
  • Posted 4/14/2005
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 7293
On July 9, 1951, Washington State Highway Commission convenes for the first time. The five-member, bipartisan citizen board, appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Washington State Senate, is responsible for all state highway planning and construction in tandem with the State Toll Bridge Authority (which assumes control of Washington State Ferries in 1951). The first members of the Highway Commission are Fred G. Redmon, L. B. Wallace, Ray A. Moisio, John E. Maley, and George B. Simpson. The Commission retains previous Highway Director William Bugge to run the reorganized Department of Highways.

Depoliticizing Transportation

Led by Julia Butler Hansen (1907-1988), the veteran Democratic state representative from Cathlamet, Wahkiakum County, who chaired the House Roads and Bridges Committee, the 1951 Legislature passed sweeping administrative changes and substantial funding increases for the Highway Department. Throughout her tenure in the Legislature (1939-1960) and then the U.S. House of Representatives (1960-1974), Hansen was a formidable and effective advocate for highways and road building. She was the driving force behind the 1951 bill creating a five-member Highway Commission to run the department, which Governor Arthur Langlie signed reluctantly because it diminished his power over the department.

Since the 1929 abolition of the feuding Highway Committee, control had rested with the Highway Director, a political appointee of the governor, resulting in a new director and often a new direction whenever a new governor was elected. The creation of a bipartisan commission that would appoint the director and exercise ultimate authority was intended to insulate the department from political influences and ensure greater continuity.

Governor Still Wields Power

No more than three of the five Highway Commissioners could belong to the same political party. To ensure geographical representation, no more than three could reside on same side of the Cascades, and each had to be from a different Congressional district. Governor Langlie, although not eager to relinquish his direct control over the highway department, was able to put his stamp on the commission as he appointed the first set of commissioners to staggered terms (subsequent terms were for six years).

The first members of the Highway Commission were Fred G. Redmon, L. B. Wallace, Ray A. Moisio, John E. Maley, and George B. Simpson. Redmon, a Yakima County commissioner, was elected chairman at the commission's first meeting in July 1951. At the same meeting, the commission retained Langlie appointee William Bugge (1900-1992) as Director of Highways. Bugge ended up serving a total of 14 years, from 1949 to 1963, longer than any other highway department head to date.

The Highway Commission and Department of Highways were succeeded by the Washington State Transportation Commission and Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) in 1977.

Sources: Washington State Highway Commission First Biennial Report; Department of Highways 24th Biennial Report, 1950-1952 (Olympia: State Printing Plant, 1952); Walt Crowley, Kit Oldham & the HistoryLink Staff, Moving Washington Timeline: The First Century of the Washington State Department of Transportation, 1905-2005 (Seattle: Washington State Department of Transportation and HistoryLink, 2005).

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