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In 1891, Burnside Street was renamed from “B” street to take the name of Dan Wyman Burnside, a local businessman who was a proponent of the 1866 dredging of the Willamette River. Construction of the original Burnside Bridge began in November 1892, and the bridge opened on July 4, 1894. It was a swing-span truss bridge made of wrought iron and steel.
The replacement was part of a $4.5 million bond that also included the construction of the Ross Island and Sellwood bridges. The public would later learn that the contract was given for $500,000 more than the lowest bid. Three Multnomah County commissioners were recalled as a result of the scandal, and a new engineering company assumed control of the project.
The bridge opened on May 28, 1926, at a final cost of $4.5 million (including approaches). It is the only Willamette River bridge in Portland that was designed with input from an architect. This led to the Italian Renaissance towers and decorative metal railings.
Streetcars crossed the Burnside Bridge until 1950, and electric trolleybuses serving the Sandy Blvd. route did so from 1936 to 1958. Currently, three TriMet bus routes use the bridge.
In the 1990s the Burnside Bridge was made a Regional Emergency Transportation Route, the one non-freeway bridge to be used by emergency vehicles. In 1995 one of the six lanes was removed to accommodate new bicycle lanes. From March until November 2002 the bridge went through a $2.1 million seismic retrofit, making it the first bridge operated by Multnomah County to receive earthquake protection.
The bridge was added to the National Register of Historic Places in November 2012.