Department of Transportation Records Guide
Agency History - 1914-1939
The first state highway plan was approved in 1914. In 1915 the Railroad Commission of Oregon was renamed the Public Service Commission to accurately reflect the commissions broad scope of interest and involvement in regulation (OL 1915 Ch. 241). The Public Service Commission continued to regulate the rail industry in Oregon. Initially, Public Service Commissioners were elected by popular vote but from 1927 onwards commission members were appointed.
The only counties with paved sections of roadway by 1916 were Multnomah, Clatsop, and Jackson counties. The Columbia River Highway was dedicated in 1916 and was paved from Portland to Multnomah Falls.
The makeup of the State Highway Commission shifted from elected officials to volunteer citizen members (1917 Oregon Law, Chapter 237). Notable is that between 1917 and 1918 forty bridges were built in Oregon.
In 1919, ten years after the first discussions of the Portland-Vancouver Interstate Bridge project, another act was passed by the Legislative Assembly that acknowledged the intergovernmental agreements and provided additional funding to the project (1909 Oregon Law, Chapter 328). The act also made provision that Multnomah County would be responsible for maintaining the structure after completion. The 1919 Legislative Assembly prohibited billboards and similar advertising on the Columbia River Highway (1919 Oregon Law, Chapter 20).
Securing funds for county road, bridge, and culvert construction was a priority for the 1921 Legislative Assembly (1921 Oregon Law, Chapter 382). Also addressed that session was the authorization for a bridge spanning the lower Columbia River at a location "over the Columbia River as near the Pacific Ocean as may be practicable" (1921 Oregon Law, Chapter 20) as well as the redefinition of the roles and duties of the Port of Portland (1921 Oregon Law, Chapter 76).
The 1923 Legislative Assembly recognized two entities that shaped Oregon - The Oregon Trail and the agriculture industry. The Legislative Assembly designated the road from Idaho to the Pacific Ocean as the "Old Oregon Trail" route and authorized signage depicting a prairie schooner and a team of oxen to mark the route for modern day travelers (1923 Oregon Law, Chapter 3). In addition Oregon Law provided for agricultural transport on public highways with permission from the State Highway Commission despite the spiked wheels on many pieces of agricultural machinery (1923 Oregon Law, Chapter 61).
In 1925 Legislative Assembly added definition to Oregon law regarding infrastructure issues, commercial operators, as well as acceptable motorist conduct. Bridge repair and construction plans were to be approved by the State Highway Engineer before the work was undertaken (1925 Oregon Law, Chapter 47). Oregon Law provided for the generation of revenue from corporations and individuals who were deemed "motor carriers" by using their vehicle for business, permits were also issued and fees established for motor carriers, and truck weight limits were also set into law (1925 Oregon Law, Chapter 308). Profane, abusive or obscene language near or upon any public highway was forbidden and punishable by a fine up to $500 or six months in jail (1925 Oregon Law, Chapter 105). The Legislative Assembly also made it unlawful to drive, run or operate any motor vehicle while "in an intoxicated condition or under the influence of intoxicating liquor." On the first offense, the sheriff was to detain the motor vehicle, not the intoxicated individual, for up to six months (1925 Oregon Law, Chapter 182).
Arguably the most lasting effort of the 1925 Legislative Assembly was the authorization for the State Highway Commission to purchase land beyond 300 feet of the roadway for “parks, parking places, camp sites, public squares and recreation grounds” (1925 Oregon Law, Chapter 201). This authorization provided the skeletal structure of the modern Oregon State Park system.
There was major amending and revising of traffic law in 1927 that redefined the duties of drivers, passengers, and witnesses to motor accidents. Pedestrians were to use the left-hand side of the road and the speed of vehicles was adjusted dependant on the type of tires, solid or pneumatic, on the vehicle (1927 Oregon Law, Chapter 217). That year the state highway commission was also authorized to purchase the Vancouver-Portland interstate bridge from Multnomah County and to make the bridge a "free bridge" absent of any tolls (1927 Oregon Law, Chapter 301).
In 1929 it became the responsibility of railroads to "erect and thereafter maintain good and sufficient lawful fences on both sides of its or his railroad line" with provisions made for public crossings in both town and country (1929 Oregon Law, Chapter 221). Bicycles were to be operated with both front and rear lights to render "sufficient lumination" (1929 Oregon Law, Chapter 328). Motorists were not left out in 1929, as they were instructed that "no person shall drive any vehicle upon a highway at such a speed as to endanger the life, limb or property of any person" (1929 Oregon Law, Chapter 186). 1929 was also the year the State Parks Commission was organized and its first chairman, H.B. VanDuzer, was appointed by the governor.
The early 1930s saw rapid development of parks in Oregon as participants in Depression era work relief programs made improvements on many state parks. 1931 brought a name change to the Roosevelt Coast Military Highway, as it became the Oregon Coast Highway (1931 Oregon Law, Chapter 90). The Board of Pilot Commissioners became responsible for providing regulation, licensing, and enforcement of pilots operating in the Coos Bay area (1930 Oregon Law, Chapter 65). In 1933 the Legislative Assembly enacted a law prohibiting airplanes from disturbing waterfowl (1933 Oregon Law, Chapter 174). 1931 saw the replacement of the Public Service Commission with the Public Utility Commissioner who, appointed by the Governor and requiring senate confirmation, served a four-year term and retained the powers and responsibilities of the Public Service Commission, including the regulation of Oregon’s rail industry (OL 1931 Ch. 103 Sec. 1).
The Legislative Assembly marked an increase in addressing transportation issues in 1935. That year liability was extended to operators of steamboats for injury to persons or property due to their actions under Oregon Law (1935 Oregon Law, Chapter 34).
That year as well the Legislative Assembly added additional distinctions to the types of motor carriers identified by the Legislative Assembly. Contract carrier, private carrier, and special carriers were all defined and laws created to regulate each category (1935 Oregon Law, Chapter 415). 1935 also marked the creation of the Travel Information Bureau under the State Highway Commission. The Legislative Assembly authorized the commission to compile, publish, and disseminate information including historical facts, data, and maps about parks, recreation areas, and other public places in the state (1935 Oregon Law, Chapter 195).
In 1937 the Legislative Assembly dictated that locomotives must have front and rear lights to lawfully operate in Oregon (1937 Oregon Law, Chapter 323). Motorists were also a focus in 1937 as the Legislative Assembly formed educational programs in schools for the prevention of highway accidents (1937 Oregon Law, Chapter 63) and outlined the use of flares, lanterns, and flags for disabled trucks and busses. Aforementioned vehicles could not operate from a half-hour before sundown to a half-hour prior to sunrise without 3 such items on board. The flares, lanterns, or flags had to produce light for at least 12 hours visible a distance of 500 feet. The law also wisely instructed those driving vehicles hauling "inflammable gases” that" no open burning flare shall be placed adjacent to any such last- mentioned vehicle" (1937 Oregon Law, Chapter 327).
Oregon’s first weight limits were placed on logging trucks (1939 Oregon Law, Chapter 369) and the Legislative Assembly passed an act prohibiting livestock from running at large on the Oregon Coast Highway (1939 Oregon Law, Chapter 470).