Who Could “Get Oregon Out of the Mud”?
By Christopher Bell
Throughout 2013, Oregon is celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the Oregon Department of Transportation, which began life as the “State Highway Department” in 1913. Since the beginning, Oregonians have been leaders in transportation, creating the nation’s first gas tax, implementing award-winning bicycle and pedestrian programs, finishing cross-state highways ahead of the nation and, in its inaugurating battle cry, “Get Oregon Out of the Mud.” Mud is a crop here with a long growing season, thus the need for an organized approach to road-making came soon after the Model-T’s democratization of car ownership.With the Department came standardization and wide-scale construction of highways and bridges that in time, facilitated a transformation of Oregon’s economy. While nationally the Interstate’s construction led to the advent of sprawl and a complete shift in how we traverse this country, Oregon’s unique attitude responded with the urban growth boundary. In all, at the center of so much of our state’s change and development is, quite frankly, transportation.
While this year’s Historic Preservation Month has already passed, we can still use the month’s theme of “See, Save, Celebrate” to talk about each of those relative to ODOT’s legacy.
“See” is inherent in what we do. Without the creation of “year ‘round” roads, much of our historic fabric would be impossible to see without 4WD. What is more, the legacy of nationally renowned bridge engineer Conde McCullough helped the state build some of the most stunning bridges in the nation from 1919 to 1936, one can both enjoy the historic scenery and the bridge that got them there.
“Save” has been our theme in recent years. From proactive cathodic protection to preserve our most historic bridges along the coast, to one of the most robust covered bridge preservation programs in the nation, to innovative design to replace our historic bridge rail as closely as possible while meeting current crash standards. Saving is something we do well, in spite of the increasing safety and freight demands.
Finally, Celebrate. ODOT has developed a website and a host of events to honor 100 years of transportation. We take pride in the historic fabric we have created, that which in the heady and draconian days of the 1950s and 1960s, we destroyed. In the end, we behave today with both the benefit of hindsight, and doing our best to preserve beauty of that which we have created in the past.
Christopher Bell is the Cultural Resources Program Coordinator at the Oregon Department of Transportation.