Postwar Progress

The BPC resumed its construction and improvement program in early 1919 with the goal of completing the parkway sometime in 1922.(193) The cost of labor and materials had risen so sharply, however, that the BPC was once again forced to curtail its programs. Exorbitant postwar construction costs were eventually brought under control by the availability of surplus construction equipment from the U.S. War Department and through the development of a new and more economical design for bridges and grade separation structures.

War Department Surplus Equipment

Although the BPC expected construction and labor costs to fall after the war, it was confronted with keen competition for materials and labor. In May, the BPC raised some laborers’ wages from $6.00 to $6.50 per day. The next month commissioners discovered the raise was not enough to keep pace with private contractors, so wages were raised to $7.00 a day. In July, the daily wage was raised to $7.50 in an effort to keep workers from leaving the BPC.(194)

While there was little the BPC could do to keep its labor costs under control, Downer realized considerable savings by obtaining surplus war equipment from the federal government. Downer had originally attempted to acquire heavy grading equipment through conventional bidding processes, but he was unable to locate the required steam shovels and clamshell excavator at a reasonable cost. He searched for used equipment and when this effort also proved unsuccessful, he looked to the U.S. Government’s newly instituted surplus equipment program. Downer located the machines he sought and was able to get them delivered for the cost of freight. By the end of 1919, the BPC had received an Austin caterpillar crane, sixteen dump wagons, a road roller, three trucks, and two cars. By early 1920, Downer reported that he had secured five steam shovels with alternating clamshell equipment and a derrick truck valued at approximately $68,500. The BPC praised Downer’s efforts to obtain the War Department equipment and commended him for saving the commission a substantial sum of money. Since the BPC was eager to proceed with the construction work, it was equally important that the surplus machinery be delivered quickly without the delays that slowed private construction equipment sales in the immediate postwar period. The surplus war equipment was delivered in a timely fashion and was ready for the beginning of the 1920 construction season.(195)

Downer’s methods of obtaining the surplus equipment were not entirely within the letter of the law. Congress had originally authorized the Secretary of War to distribute the surplus equipment to state highway departments for building rural post roads. The BPC was ineligible for this program, but in March 1920, New York Senator Wadsworth introduced a bill to authorize distribution of the surplus equipment more broadly to other public road building boards and commissions. The bill was passed and became law that same month. Downer acquired more equipment and materials in August and in February of the following year. Construction materials acquired through the war surplus program included sewer pipe, steel cable, rope, corrugated iron, steel pipe, and iron pipe. Altogether, the BPC obtained construction equipment and materials valued at $400,000 for the cost of freight and handling charges.(196)


(193)Downer, "Public Parks in Westchester County," 970-971.
(194)Bronx Parkway Commission, Minutes, July 22, 1919, 108-113.
(195)Bronx Parkway Commission, Minutes, August 19, 1919, 126-129; November 25, 1919, 179-183; February 10, 1920, 17-20.
(196)Bronx Parkway Commission, Minutes, March 2, 1920, 26-29; August 7, 1920, 110-112; Downer, "Public Parks in Westchester County," 971.