100 years ago state lawmakers passed transportation spending, skipped money for a Columbia River bridge

Sure, the debate over a statewide transportation tax package and a Columbia River bridge has been contentious among state lawmakers this year. It’s unlikely, however, that the transportation debate will be as entertaining as it was 100 years ago.

That’s right, the 1913 Washington Legislature also found itself considering a transportation spending plan that included money for a bridge over the Columbia River at Vancouver. In 1913, lawmakers’ bickering reached its climax at the front door of the governor’s mansion.

Here’s the story, courtesy of Don Brazier’s History of the Washington Legislature, 1854-1963:

“The financing and building of highways had become a major issue. The 1911 Legislature had failed to pass a highway construction appropriation. The number of automobiles on the roads of the state were proliferating. Two proposals moved through the process; a tax bill and an appropriation bill.”

A bill providing $1.5 million for road construction passed through the Legislature, but Gov. Ernest Lister, a Democrat, vetoed it because he thought it was too expensive. A few days later, the Legislature tried again, passing another transportation spending bill.

Brazier continues:

“Leaders in the House were determined to deliver the bill to the Governor that day so he would have to act before the session ended. The Bill was sent to the Governor’s office between 5:00 and 6:00 p.m., but the office was locked. A legislative ball was scheduled later in the evening. The Governor made a brief appearance at the ball but departed before the bill could be delivered to him. Speaker Taylor then dispatched Chief Clerk Maybury and Representative McArdle, chairman of the Highway Committee, to deliver the bill to the Governor at his mansion.

“Upon arrival, Mrs. Lister answered the door and advised that the Governor was not available. McArdle and Maybury waited on the porch and inquired a couple of more times. Finally, convinced that they were being stiffed, they knocked one last time and when Mrs. Lister answered the door they dropped the bill inside on the floor. The two man delegation turned to leave and Mrs. Lister promptly kicked the document off the front porch.”

The next day, Gov. Lister met with legislators and debate continued, but, Brazier concludes:

“Cooler heads prevailed and a compromise was reached. A 1.25 million dollar highway bill was passed. … The highway appropriation included money for the Snoqualmie Pass Highway and the Pacific Highway. At the same time, the Governor vetoed legislation appropriating funds to build the Columbia River Bridge at Vancouver. This veto further aggravated Lister’s relationship with the Legislature.”

Eventually, the bridge was constructed in 1917. It remains today’s northbound span of the Interstate 5 Bridge over the Columbia River.


Stevie Mathieu

Stevie Mathieu

Stevie Mathieu is a political writer at The Columbian. Contact her at 360-735-4523 or stevie.mathieu@columbian.com or www.facebook.com/reportermathieu or www.twitter.com/col_politics.

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