A new section of the Pacific Highway from Blaine to Ferndale, including the Dakota Creek Bridge, opens to traffic on October 13, 1928.

  • By Jim Kershner
  • Posted 3/30/2015
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 11048
On October 13, 1928, a new section of the Pacific Highway from Blaine to Ferndale, including the Dakota Creek Bridge, opens to traffic. E. C. Furbush, "the state resident engineer of the highway department," announces that "the final touches to the new highway" are completed and the barricades removed for travel ("Paved Cut-Off to Blaine"). This 8.8-mile stretch of road cuts five miles off the highway's old route. The new bridge, a reinforced-concrete girder structure, carries two lanes of traffic and pedestrians over a tidal portion of the creek not far from its mouth. This new route represents a major improvement to the northernmost part of the Pacific Highway, officially called State Road No. 1. It will serve as the most important north-south route in the state until 1963, when Interstate 5 is opened on a nearby parallel route with a new twin-span bridge. This section of the highway will be renamed Portal Way and become a less-used route. In 1964 the Dakota Creek Bridge will be transferred from the state to Whatcom County. In 2015 the county will embark on a $3.3 million seismic retrofit of the bridge.

Problems and Setbacks

Work on paving the new 8.8-mile cutoff had commenced on May 1, 1928, by the Norris Bros. construction firm out of Burlington, and work on the Dakota Creek Bridge had started earlier, on February 15, 1928. The bridge contractor, P. Manson & Son, spent until March 13 "rigging up his pile driver and driving false piles" ("Final Record Notes"). Then he began excavating the north-end pier and on March 23 began driving foundation piles.

Manson soon ran into problems, because the 2,000-pound hammer proved "too light" for this difficult job ("Final Record Notes"). This problem "slowed up the progress of the pile driving throughout the entire job," according to the state engineer's official report on the job ("Final Record Notes"). However, by May 4, the "excavation, piles, seal and footings" in three of the piers were completed. On that day, another setback occurred when "the forms for column #1 broke loose and the column had to be torn out and rebuilt" ("Final Record Notes"). Because of these delays, an extension for the bridge's completion from June 15 to September 15 was granted.

Work Going Nicely

However, during the ensuing weeks, "the work went very nicely, all phases being carried ahead simultaneously" ("Final Record Notes"). The rest of the pier footings were completed, as well as most of the seven spans and columns, by June 28. The bridge's girders and decks were poured by August 7. The "last of the concrete" was in by August 28 ("Final Record Notes").

For the next few weeks, the contractor was engaged in "backfilling, finishing and cleaning up around the bridge." The official date of the bridge's completion was September 21, 1928. It was a few days past the deadline, but this was not crucial because evidently the paving of the 8.8-mile cutoff was still underway. On October 12, 1928, the "final touches to the new highway link" were being completed ("Paved Cut-Off to Blaine"). On the morning of October 13, 1928, the "barricades on the road were removed for travel" ("Paved Cut-Off To Blaine"). The opening of the bridge and of this new section of the Pacific Highway occurred "without any attendant ceremony" ("Paved Cut-Off to Blaine").

A More Modern Highway

This was front-page news in Whatcom County because it reduced the driving time significantly from Ferndale to Blaine. It not only shortened the old, indirect route, but also provided a faster and more modern highway. The "paving was twenty feet in width and has a road bed of 34 feet, with seven-foot shoulders on each side" ("Paved Cut-Off To Blaine"). The entire project cost about $300,000 -- $246,000 was for the new highway and "between $45,000 and $50,000" for the Dakota Creek Bridge ("Paved Cut-Off to Blaine").

This part of the Pacific Highway, later designated Primary State Highway No. 1, served as the main north-south route in the state until 1963, when it was replaced by Interstate 5, on a nearby, parallel route. The old Pacific Highway in this stretch was renamed Portal Way. The bridge, now called the Portal Way/Dakota Creek (Bridge No. 500), continues to carry two lanes of traffic and pedestrians on Portal Way. The bridge was scheduled for a $3.3 million seismic retrofit, to be completed by late 2015.

Sources: "Paved Cut-Off To Blaine Open To Traffic," The Bellingham Herald, October 13, 1928, p. 1; "Portal Way/Dakota Creek Bridge #500: Project Background," Whatcom County Public Works, Whatcom County website accessed March 19, 2015 (http://www.whatcomcounty.us/523/Portal-Way-Dakota-Creek-Bridge-500); Jim Kershner interview with Douglas Ranney, Whatcom County Public Works, March 16, 2015; "Final Record Notes, Dakota Creek Bridge," State Highway Department notebook, October 11, 1928, on file at the Whatcom County Public Works Department, Bellingham.

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