Officials dedicate the Pioneer Memorial Bridge (Blue Bridge) spanning the Columbia between Pasco and Kennewick on July 30, 1954.

  • By Elizabeth Gibson
  • Posted 9/07/2006
  • Essay 7818
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On July 30, 1954, state, county, and local officials dedicate the Pioneer Memorial Bridge (Blue Bridge) spanning the Columbia River between Pasco and Kennewick. The bridge cost $7 million to build. Chairman of the Washington State Roads and Bridges Committee Julia Butler Hansen, Miss Benton County Betty Sue Hill, and Benton County Fair Rodeo Queen Jean Mullineaux cut the ceremonial ribbon. Boys riding bikes dashed ahead of the ceremonial motercade and became the first to cross the bridge.

The first efforts for a new bridge began in July 1949, when 14 business leaders from Pasco, Kennewick, and Kiona met with Governor Arthur Langlie in Olympia. About 10,000 cars passed over the current bridge each day, far too many for a two-lane bridge, especially one with narrower-than-average lanes that were only 19 feet wide. Traffic had increased after the expansion of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Richland and during the ongoing McNary Dam construction.

Soon after this meeting, the Richland Chamber of Commerce suggested that the communities build a bridge and operate it as a toll bridge until its cost was recovered. The cities asked for federal funding, but didn’t get it until 1951, when the Washington State Legislature authorized money to pay for the bridge.

On August 14, 1951, the cities awarded a contract for $2 million to three companies: Jarvis Construction Co.; Robert W. Austin, Inc.; and Cascade Construction Co. This project included building 13 piers and the approach on the Pasco (north) side of the Columbia River.

Construction began on September 19, 1951. Pasco Mayor John Beck, Kennewick Mayor Urban Koelker, and Richland Community Council leader Dr. D. W. Pearce held a groundbreaking ceremony and turned the first shovelful of earth. The three beauty queens, Barbara Wickham (Miss Pasco), Carol Weeks (Miss Richland), and Wanda Arnold (Miss Kennewick) also attended the ceremony. Glen C. Lee, publisher of the Tri-City Herald, and Tom Doyle, district highway engineer, were also on hand.

By the end of September, preliminary work was well underway. Materials were brought in and pontoon bridges were assembled. In the first week in October, crews excavated for piers on the Pasco side and worked on a detour at the bridge approach in Kennewick. Work also started on a huge cement plant on the Pasco side that could produce 100 yards of concrete an hour.

At the end of November, work began on five of the 13 piers. Pier 1 was placed on the Kennewick side directly in the middle of the old Richland-Kennewick highway and Pier 13 was placed on the opposite bank.

Crews began pouring concrete for Pier 3 on December 13. The pier was finished in about 8 hours after a fleet of trucks spaced six minutes apart brought concrete from the plant on the Pasco side and carried it on a trestle to the pier. Each of the mid-river piers contained enough concrete to cover a city block. In addition, each pier contained 885,000 pounds of rebar.

On December 14, 1951, work started on Pier 7 at mid-river. High water in the spring of 1952 kept crews from working for about six weeks. Instead they made use of the time by working on the approach. They completed the 13 piers early in 1953.

On April 1953, the cities awarded a $3 million contract to build the bridge superstructure to American Bridge Division of U.S. Steel Corporation. The 2,520-foot tied-arch steel span contains almost 10 million pounds of metal. American Bridge joined the two huge cantilever spans during the first week of February 1954. In May, they installed lights and began work on the deck. Last, they painted the bridge green, Washington’s traditional color. Meanwhile, in January 1954, Cherf Brothers and Sankay of Ephrata received $237,000 to grade the Kennewick approach and build a traffic cloverleaf as the last major part of the project.

When completed the bridge was 66 feet wide, to accommodate four lanes of traffic. Four lanes approach from both sides of the Columbia River. The bridge also has sidewalks on both sides. Highway department engineer Frank Henager reported that no one was hurt or killed during the construction.

The new bridge was dedicated on July 30, 1954. A motorcade assembled at the Elks Club in Pasco at 9:30 a.m. At 10:15, the motorcade left the club and headed to the new bridge. At the Lewis Street approach, they were met by the Camp Hanford band and color guard. Water skiing and music entertained about 3,000 people until the ceremonies began.

Ralph Rodgers of Pasco acted as Master of Ceremonies. Many local and state celebrities attended the celebration. Reverend Andrew Daughters, pastor of the Episcopal Churches of Pasco and Kennewick, spoke of the bridge as a symbol of the binding power between the communities. Raymond Moisio, chairman of Washington State Highway Commission, noted the unity needed between management and labor during construction. Robert Sheets, national vice president of the International Hodcarriers, stressed good management and labor relations. He said that everyone from the farmer to the teacher had a hand in building the bridge and so it belongs to everyone. Washington State Highway Department head William A. Bugge commended workers for a job well done. Ed Sorger of Washington State Dept of Labor and Industries also addressed the assembly.

About 11:40 a.m., State Representative Julia Butler Hansen of Cathlamet and chair of the House Roads and Bridges Committee in the state, cut the ribbon. She commended efforts of Senator Stanton Ganders, Representative O. H. Olson, and Representative Al Henry for making the bridge possible by lobbying for the bridge.

After Hanson cut the ribbon, a motorcade was set to be first to cross the bridge, but boys riding bikes raced past the cars and crossed first. Some of the boys were Jerry Brown of Pasco and Dickie Burnett, Carlos Smith, and Jerry Martin of Kennewick. After the boys flew by, the motorcade crossed onto the Kennewick side behind the Camp Hanford band. Cars drove in the inside lanes and pedestrians filled the outside lanes. Ed Welch drove the first car across. He had been one of the first Tri-Citians to cross the old inner-city bridge in 1922. At the time he managed a taxi company. Raymond Moisio and Hansen accompanied Welsh.

H. W. Desgranges, former mayor of Kennewick, drove a surrey across the bridge. He had also been present when the original inner-city bridge was dedicated. With him were Oscar Rogers of Pasco, Harvey Singleton of Richland, Mr. and Mrs. Roy Gross of Richland, and Glenn C. Lee.

The procession left the bridge and continued onto Imnaha Street, Fruitland Street, and Kennewick Avenue, to Washington Street, then back to Avenue C (now Columbia Drive). Then the motorcade re-crossed the bridge and returned to the Pasco Elks Club for lunch. Kennewick Attorney Charles Powell hosted the luncheon.

Besides alleviating congested traffic conditions and dangerous driving conditions on the old bridge, the new bridge provided other advantages, not the least of which was recreation. The bridge gave almost direct access to Sanders Field, home of the Tri-City Braves baseball team, on the Benton County side of the Columbia. Owners hoped that games would be better attended -- access had always been a problem. The bridge also eases distance for those driving from Connell and helps traffic jams that have been common during high school football and basketball games between Pasco and Kennewick and Pasco and Richland. Boat races and stock car races had also had low attendance because of transportation difficulties. The bridge also provided more direct access to those who liked to fish at the Potholes Reservoir behind O’Sullivan Dam 50 miles north of Pasco or who liked to hunt the north Franklin County wheatfields.

The old bridge was given to Benton and Franklin counties, required by state law when there are new highway developments. It was still heavily used by inner-city traffic until it was replaced in 1978. Meanwhile the Pioneer Memorial Bridge would later be painted blue, and is now known by locals as the "Blue Bridge." Sometimes it is also called the (Highway) 395 bridge since it connects the north- and south-bound lanes of Interstate 395. In 2002, the bridge was added to the National Register of Historic Places as structure #02000241 for architecture and engineering significance.

Sources: "Oldtimer to Cross It First," Tri-City Herald (Kennewick), July 29, 1954, p. 1; "Counties to Get Old Span," Ibid., July 29, 1954, p. 2; "New Columbia River Span Ready, Ibid., July 29, 1954, p. 4; Gil Gilmore, "New Bridge Will Prove Boon to Local Sportsmen," Ibid., July 29, 1954, p. 21, "Crowd of 2,500 to See it," Ibid., July 30, 1954, p. 1; Boy Bike Riders Get Jump, Cross New Bridge First," Ibid., July 30, 1954, p. 1; Walter A. Oberst, Railroads, Reclamation and the River: A History of Pasco (Pasco: Franklin County Historical Society, 1978); National Register of Historic Places website accessed June 15, 2006 (

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