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The Great Bridge Scandal

Even though a number of outside firms reviewed the bridge design plans, many were surprised that only two teams submitted bids for construction of the three proposed bridges. One team, a joint effort of three local construction firms, submitted a proposal whereby each firm would build one bridge. Citing the need to share equipment and other operational benefits, the joint bid came on the condition that either all three proposals be accepted or rejected as a single package. The other firm submitted a competing bid for the Burnside Bridge. Despite being $500,000 lower than the joint proposal price for the same structure, the county commissioners voted to accept the proposal that would build all three bridges. There were no competing bids for the Sellwood or Ross Island bridges (The Oregonian, April 2, 1924).

The commissioners cited the increased expediency of the joint proposal, which would finish the Burnside Bridge in 300 days instead of 500. The bridge designers - Hedrick and Kremers - also recommended in favor of the joint proposal, though Kremers would later distance himself from the recommendation.

The public, already disappointed by the decision to change the design of the Burnside Bridge from concrete to a less popular steel design, (The Oregonian, April 2, 1924) were quick to criticize the decision. An editorial in the Morning Oregonian suggested that it would have been wiser to replace the more important Burnside Bridge at the lower price and delay the construction of the other new bridges until suitable bidders could be found. The editorial concluded: "That there was no more than one bid for Ross Island and Sellwood was not the fault of the commissioners; that they let contracts for them, without competition, is their fault and their responsibility. They should undo what they have done, and start again" (The Oregonian, April 2, 1924).

Eventually, the three county commissioners were charged with "graft, bribery and malfeasance" in the selection of Hedrick and Kremers and for the award of the contracts for the new bridges. Although ultimately acquitted, all three commissioners were recalled from office in a special election in May 1924. "A sordid tale of influence peddling was related (at the trial) depicting each Commissioner holding his hand out for some kind of pay-off, but the state had a difficult time establishing any direct connections involving bribery" (MacColl, 1979:265).

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