Builders of 20th Century America Public Works


Important Events in Caltrans History
1769 California's first road, El Camino Real was established by Spanish explorers Father Junipero Serra and Governor Don Gaspar de Portola which linked the coastal missions founded by Father Serra.
1849 California ceded to the United States.
Thousands of "49ers" migrate to California in wagon trains to search for gold.
First river steamboat in California (Benicia).
1850 California admitted into the Union.
Surveyor General S. H. Marlette was assigned to take first surveys and make plans for transportation and navigational improvements.
1853 All mountain passes through the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range had been opened up by immigrants. Many new roads and trails had been created to meet the increasing demand.
1855 Marlette commissioned the first formal survey toward construction of a wagon road across the Sierra Nevada roughly where U.S. Highway 50 is today from Placerville to Nevada.
1863 Central Pacific Railroad begins laying track in Sacramento for the Transcontinental Railroad .
1869 Transcontinental railroad completed.
1879 The first bicycle club established in San Francisco.
1895 The Bureau of Highways created by the Legislature.
The three newly appointed officials of the Bureau of Highways, R. C. Irvine of Sacramento, Marsden Manson of San Francisco, and J. L. Maude of Riverside, purchase a buckboard and visit every county of the state during 1895 and 1896, covering some 7,000 miles through the coast, valley, mountains, and deserts. Their recommended highway system becomes the foundation of the system that exists today.
1896 Lake Tahoe Wagon Road deeded to California, becoming the first state highway.
1897 The Department of Highways replaces Bureau of Highways.
1907 The Department of Engineering replaces Department of Highways. It includes four-member Advisory Board. A state engineer also is appointed.
1909 First State Highway Bond Act issued to establish a State Highway system ($18 million).
1912 Construction begins on California State Highway Contract No.1, between South San Francisco and Burlingame. Groundbreaking ceremonies are held on the El Camino Real in San Mateo County.
Materials testing lab (Translab) authorized.
1915 California law passed allowing convict labor to be used for building roads .
1916 Second highway bond issue for $15 million is approved by voters.
1919 Third highway bond issue for $40 million approved by voters.
1920 Highway Commission recommends fuel tax solely for highway construction.
1921 Department of Public Works created to include Department of Highways.
1923 Two-cent-per-gallon fuel tax approved. One cent is devoted to maintenance and reconstruction, and one cent for county roads.
Highway Commission created as separate state department. State Highway Engineer appointed to handle only highway work.
1926 U.S. Highway Numbering System adopted. Auto Clubs in charge of signing.
Antioch Bridge opens, located on Highway 160 near Highway 4 in Contra Costa County and Highway 160 in Sacramento County.
1927 One cent increase in fuel tax approved for new construction (total 3 cents).
Dumbarton Bridge opens, located on Highway 84 between San Mateo and Alameda counties.
Carquinez Bridge opens, located on Interstate 80 between Contra Costa and Solano Counties near Vallejo.
Department of Public Works re-established with Division of Highways as a major division. Governor to appoint five Highway Commissioners to serve without pay, with powers to alter state routes, authorize right-of-way, and allocate money to build or repair state highways.
1929 Legislature establishes California Toll Bridge Authority and authorizes acquisition of all toll bridges on state highways. Department of Public Works authorized to begin work on the San Francisco Bay Bridge.
1934 State highway code realigned to allow state highway department to build state highways in cities, and reapportioned gas tax revenues to allow building of urban highways.
  California State Sign Route Numbering System adopted. Auto Clubs do signing.
1936 San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge opens to traffic on Nov. 12.
1937 Golden Gate Bridge opens, located on Highway 101 between San Francisco and Marin counites.
1938 Ground broken for California's first freeway, the Arroyo Seco, still in existence as the Pasadena Freeway.
Key System electric train service begins across the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.
1940 California's first freeway, the 6-mile Arroyo Seco Parkway, now known as the Pasadena Freeway, opens to traffic in Los Angeles County on Dec. 30. It connects Pasadena, South Pasadena and Los Angeles.
1942 California speed limit reduced to 35 mph/25 mph near military bases.
1947 Collier-Burns Act raises auto license fees to $6. Gas, diesel and LPG taxes are raised to 4.5 cents per gallon. It also asserts the state's obligation to complete construction of the rural highway system and build urban highways.
California Division of Highways takes over signing from the Auto Clubs.
Plans revealed for the world's first "four-level grade separation" near downtown Los Angeles, connecting the 101 (Hollywood) and 110 (Harbor and Pasadena) freeways.
1953 Fuel tax increased to 6 cents per gallon. Diesel taxes increased to 7 cents.
An urban right of way acquisition fund established. With fuel tax money plus federal aid, Division of Highways plans Freeway and Expressway System totalling 12,414 miles.
  The "Four Level" interchange near downtown Los Angeles is completed.
1956 Richmond-San Rafael Bridge opens, located on Interstate 580 between Contra Costa and Marin counties
1959 Senate Bill 480 establishes a 12,414-mile freeway and expressway system.
1961 Legislature combines Departments of Public Works, Motor Vehicles and Highway Patrol into Highway Transportation Agency.
1962 Benicia-Martinez Bridge opens, located on I-680 between Solano and Contra Costa counties.
1963 Legislature increases gas and liquid petroleum taxes and commercial weight fees to aid cities and counties. Fuel tax stands at 7 cents per gallon.
  Renumbering of State Highway System approved, to go into effect July 1, 1964.
Master plan for Scenic Highways established by Legislature.
Vincent Thomas Bridge opens, located on Route 47 in the San Pedro area of Los Angeles.
1965 Highway Transportation Agency changes name to Transportation Agency.
Final payment made on third State Highway Bond Act of 1919.
1967 San Mateo-Hayward Bridge opens, located on Highway 92 between San Mateo and Alameda counties.
1969 San Diego-Coronado Bridge opens, located on Route 75 between the City of San Diego and the City of Coronado.
1971 Sylmar earthquake strikes north of Los Angeles, causing damage to the under-construction Antelope Valley Freeway and prompting engineers to re-examine the way bridges are affected by earthquakes.
1972 Assembly Bill 69 consolidates the Department of Public Works and Aeronautics into the Department of Transportation (Caltrans) with six divisions: Transportation Planning; Highways; Mass Transportation; Aeronautics; Administrative Services and Legal.
1974 Proposition 5 passes. Shifts highway dollars to public transportation.
1978 California Transportation Commission formed to replace California Highway Commission, State Transportation Board, Aeronautics Board and California Toll Bridge Authority.
1983 State gas tax increased to 9 cents a gallon.
1984 Business and Transportation Agency renamed Business, Transportation and Housing Agency.
Santa Clara County becomes the first California County to approve a county sales tax increase devoted to transportation improvements.
1987 Governor signs bill allowing counties to ask voters for up to a penny hike in the state sales tax to pay for new roads and mass transit.
Governor signs bill allowing the construction of three toll roads in Orange County.
12th regional Caltrans district opens in Orange County.
1989 Governor signs SCA1, a transportation package designed to provide $18.5 billion for transportation over 10 years. The package depends on voter approval of three ballot measures in June of1990.
Loma Prieta earthquake strikes the San Francisco Bay area, causing widespread damage to infrastructure. The Cypress Freeway (880) and the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge are damaged.
A temporary statewide quarter-cent sales tax increase is enacted to pay for rebuilding and retrofitting in the wake of the Loma Prieta earthquake. The tax expires in 1991.
1990 Proposition 108, 111 and 116 pass, designed to generate $18.5 billion for transportation improvements.
The state gas tax is raised to 14 cents per gallon.
1991 State gas tax is raised to 15 cents per gallon.
1992 State gas tax is increased to 16 cents a gallon.
Voters reject a $1 billion rail bond measure.
1993 The 17.3-mile Glenn Anderson (Century) Freeway, Interstate 105, opens to traffic between Norwalk and El Segundo in Los Angeles County. The $2.3 billion project, which includes interchanges to four other freeways, is billed as the last new freeway in Los Angeles.
State gas tax increased to 17 cents a gallon.
1994 Northridge earthquake strikes the Los Angeles area, causing widespread damage. Four major freeways suffer heavy damage and are closed: the Santa Monica Freeway (I-10), the Simi Valley Freeway (118), the Golden State Freeway (I-5) and the Antelope Valley Freeway (14). Accelerated rebuilding effort results in all freeways being reopened by year's end.
State gas tax increased to 18 cents a gallon.
Voters reject a $1 billion rail bond measure.
1995 In response to the federal government granting states the authority to set their own speed limits, Caltrans raises the speed limit from 55 mph to 65 mph on 2,800 miles of freeway and expressways.
1996 Voters approve Proposition 192, the Seismic Retrofit Bond Act, providing $2 billion in bonds to strengthen bridges to better withstand earthquakes.
Opening of $498 million Harbor Freeway Transitway, a 10.3-mile bus and car-pool facility running down the median of the Harbor (110) Freeway in Los Angeles. The project includes the first-ever viaduct built along an existing freeway in Los Angeles.
Speed limit raised from 65 mph to 70 mph along 1,300 miles of mostly rural interstates.
1997 Governor Pete Wilson endorses a Caltrans recommendation to replace, rather than retrofit, the earthquake-vulnerable eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.
1998 Tolls on San Francisco Bay area bridges increase from $1 to $2 to pay for earthquake retrofit work.
Highlights Caltrans manages more than 45,000 miles of California's highway and freeway lanes, provides inter-city rail services, permits more than 400 public-use airports and special-use hospital heliports, and works with local agencies. Caltrans carries out its mission of improving mobility across California with six primary programs: Aeronautics, Highway Transportation, Mass Transportation, Transportation Planning, Administration and the Equipment Service Center.
1850-90 The department has been active in moving the people and commerce of California for more than 100 years from a loosely connected web of footpaths and rutted wagon routes to the sophisticated system that today serves the transportation needs of more than 30 million residents. By the early 1850s, the state's miners and merchants had succeeded in weaving a dusty network of supply roads that bogged down into near impassability during the winter rains. However, by the turn of the century, California became one of the first states to name a Bureau of Highways Commission: R.C. Irvine of Sacramento, Marsden Manson of San Francisco and J.L. Maude of Riverside.
1895 Meeting for the first time on April 11, 1895, in Sacramento, the three men began the first few steps in a buckboard journey that would take them over some 16,500 miles of roadways. A year and a half later, the three men recommended a 14,000-mile network that would become the basis for today's State Highway System. That system was scaled down in 1916 to a network of 5560 miles. However, it included two of California's best-known routes, U.S. Routes 99 and 101, for many years the major north-south axes of California.
1900 From the beginning, the commissioners worked from a simple philosophy: "The state highways should be the great arteries of a road system from which should branch out the minor highways serving counties and districts." It should link "the great belts of timber, fruit, agricultural and mineral wealth" to the state's population centers and county seats. As a result, the Legislature in 1895 purchased the Lake Tahoe Wagon Toll Road as the first state highway. The route is known today as Highway 50 and slices through the Sierra Nevada from Sacramento to Placerville and South Lake Tahoe before descending into Nevada.
1909 The state's first highway improvement bond act came in 1909 when the Legislature provided $18 million to build the State Highway System. However, money soon ran out, and the state reached an agreement in which counties would provide right-of-way and build bridges while the state would construct roads. In another cost-saving measure, the state used convict laborers to build roads, a practice that continued until the 1970s.
1919 A second bond act passed in 1919, in part due to lobbying from the automobile clubs that wanted better roads for the growing number of vehicles traversing the state. However, by 1923 the State Legislature began to realize that transportation required a more-secure revenue source. The answer was a fuel tax in which leisure and commercial travelers paid a significant portion of the cost of building the highways they used. Following World War I, gasoline taxes began to provide stable funds for highway construction, operation and maintenance. And the growing number of state highway departments united to form the American Association of State Highway Officials, which worked to establish national design standards across the country.
1920-40 During the 1920s the Yolo Causeway and Carquinez Straits Bridge opened a direct route from Sacramento through the Delta and into the Bay Area. Until then, ground transportation was through Stockton and over the Altamont Pass. Agriculture was shipped down the Sacramento River. The seeds of the farm-to-market road system were planted in the early 1930s when the U.S. Bureau of Public Roads called on America to "get the farmer out of the mud," a slogan that led to a greatly improved and expanded system of paved rural roads. Another important milestone of the 1930s was the completion of State Route 1, the Pacific Coast Highway.
1940's The 1940s saw the birth of the "freeway era" with completion in 1940 of the Arroyo Seco Freeway, among the first in the nation. California's freeway- and expressway-building sped up in the 1947 with passage of the Collier-Burns Act, which laid the basis for the state's current freeway-expressway system. Within seven years President Dwight D. Eisenhower proposed the National System of Interstate And Defense Highways.
1950-70 The 1950s and 1960s also were a time of technological innovation. The second Carquinez Bridge used high-strength steels and hybrid welding, and interstate freeways were cut through areas that once were believed to be virtually impassable: the Sacramento River and Truckee River canyons. And the Sacramento "boat section," a portion of Interstate 5, was built below ground water level and "anchored" by pilings and 15-foot-thick concrete. The awarding of the 1960 Winter Olympics to Squaw Valley added impetus to building Interstate 80, the first all-weather, trans-Sierra Nevada highway. The divided highway roughly parallels the transcontinental railroad, built in 1869, and passes by the last site of the ill-fated Donner Party of 1846.
1970-90 In the wake of the frenetic 1960s, the 1970s were a time of austerity. The then-current political philosophy urged alternatives to highway building, a trend that would continue into the 1980s. Such thinking led to a new name for the department, Caltrans, short for the California Department of Transportation. The name change was emblematic of new thinking, and a rise in the concept that while highways have long been vital to the state, other forms of transportation were emerging to complement roadways.
1990's The 1990s saw fruition of ideas that had been conceived 15 to 20 years earlier. In recognition that California could not merely build its way out of traffic congestion and air pollution, Caltrans began to emphasize the more-efficient use of highways and their integration with other "modes" of transportation. Public sentiment became more receptive to rail and transit, car pooling, ramp metering, telecommuting flexible work hours, and research into intelligent vehicle and highway systems. And in the last few years, the Northridge and Loma Prieta earthquakes have focused attention on the need to strengthen state highway bridges against the immense power of seismic forces.
Summary In short, Caltrans' development reflects the changes of American society for more than a century. From a rural society dominated by Euro-American pioneers who exploited the state's vast natural resources to a technologically, global- and service-oriented economy, California has grown prosperous.