William Adair Bugge assumes duties as Director of Highways on July 1, 1949.

  • By Alyssa Burrows
  • Posted 3/05/2005
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 7256
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On July 1, 1949, William Adair Bugge (1900-1992) begins work in his newly appointed position of Director of Highways for Washington state. A native of the Northwest, Bugge had been working in San Francisco when Governor Arthur B. Langlie (1900-1966) called him back to Washington to fill the post. Bugge holds this position for 14 years, streamlining the department's structure and overseeing major road and bridge construction. He spends more money than had been spent in the previous 44-year history of the department.

William Adair Bugge was born in Hadlock, Jefferson County, and grew up in Friday Harbor, Port Townsend, and Port Angeles. While working his way through Port Townsend High School, he excelled in football and basketball. He joined the army in 1918, receiving training at Washington State College (now Washington State University). When he was discharged, he entered college there, working on a surveying crew during school breaks.

Upon graduation in 1922, he joined a highway construction firm and soon after got a job with the state Highway Department in the engineering department. He took a few jobs in between for private contractors until becoming County Engineer for Jefferson County, then the City Engineer for Port Townsend between 1933 and 1944. He began his association work during this time, accepting presidency of the State Association of County Engineers. During World War II, he served as the civil defense coordinator for both Port Townsend and Jefferson County. He was also a member of the Rotary, the Elks, and the Masons.

In 1944 he began working for the Asphalt Institute in Portland, Oregon, and later moved to San Francisco as the managing engineer for the Pacific Coast Division of the Asphalt Institute. Governor Langlie called Bugge to offer him the position of Director of Highways for the State of Washington. After talking with his wife and making a quick trip to Olympia to confer with the governor, Bugge accepted the appointment on June 16, 1949.

In 1949, 52 percent of state roads were rated "deficient." While in office, Bugge started a new classification system that prioritized construction on a most-needed basis. Bugge also decentralized operations by leaving contracts and planning to district offices. After President Eisenhower signed the Federal Highway Act of 1956, which would provide 90 percent funding of Interstate and Defense Highways, Bugge installed an assistant director whose job it was to procure federal aid.

During his 14-year tenure as Director, his primary job was that of architect of Washington state highways. He reorganized the department, reducing the staff and department expenditures, administered 3,600 construction contracts, and built 4,107 miles of highways. Bugge was also very active in the national highway program, serving in almost every significant highway group, usually as president or chairman.

He supervised the building of the Agate Pass Bridge, the second Tacoma Narrows Bridge, the Alaskan Way Viaduct, the Battery Street Tunnel, the Sherman Creek Pass, the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge, the Vancouver-Portland Interstate Bridge, the Hood Canal Bridge, the completion of State Route 105, the Lake Washington Ship Canal Bridge, and the Olympia Freeway, among other projects. The planning for Interstate 5 and the Puget Sound Regional Transportation study began under his watch, as did the first use of computers in the department.

He was called "a master of diplomacy," and won three major national awards within one year (1960-1961), also winning the Traffic Engineering Award four years running (1951-1954). California made a bid to take him in 1953 as their State Director of Highways, but he refused in order to finish the work he had started in Washington. Governor Rosellini (1910-2011) retained him as Director in 1957, and he continued in the position until May 21, 1963, when he resigned to take the job of Project Director in charge of design and construction of the $1.5 billion Bay Area Rapid Transit System (BART) in San Francisco, then the largest engineering contract ever awarded to any firm.

William Bugge retired in 1973 at aged 73. He died on November 14, 1992, in Olympia, Washington. He was survived by his wife, son, and two grandchildren.


Edgar Irving Stewart, Washington: Northwest Frontier (New York: Lewis Historical Pub. Co., 1957), Vol. 4, 550; George William Scott, Arthur B. Langlie: Republican Governor in a Democratic Age (Ph. D. Dissertation, University of Washington, 1971); Ross Cunningham, "Bugge Administers State's Road Program With Economy, Efficiency, The Seattle Times, November 22, 1953, B-4; "Bugge Receives Third Major National Award," The Seattle Times, October 9, 1961, p. B-4; "Bugge Resigns As Highway Director," The Seattle Times, May 22, 1963, p. R-7; "Former Highway Chief Retires," The Seattle Times, April 26, 1973, p. H-7; "William Bugge, Former Highways Director," The Seattle Times, November 19, 1992, Clippings File, Seattle Central Public Library; "Washington's Highway Builder: William Adair Bugge, 1949-1963," Washington Highway News, July-August 1963, Vol. 11, No. 1, p. 13-14; "All About William Adair Bugge, Director of Highways," Department of Highways News, November 1951, Vol. 1, No. 5, p. 1-3.

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