This weekend, I had the opportunity to survey the damage from the recent storms in the Tejon Pass / Grapevine area. I took my motorcycle, as I expected to need extra clearance on some of the roadways I was going to take. The results of the survey were better than expected, mostly.
While I was only able to inspect the Ridge Route from State 138 south to the Tumble Inn, I was pleased to see how little damage was done to the roadway. As it has also been a while since I have been able to travel this section, I had to go by what I had heard and knew of the pre-existing damage. The bulk of the roadway was seemingly untouched by the recent storms. Only two sections, one with an existing problem, were a problem. One of those sections in particular, just south of Liebre Summit, is nearly impassable by a standard clearance automobile.
Mudslides, due to a locally heavy rainfall, closed Interstate 5 through this canyon for some time. Mudslide damage is still very apparent from near Ft Tejon north to near the lower escape ramp. Most of the slides affected the northbound lanes. These slides buried a significant section of former US 99 paving, especially between PM 5.5 and 6.0. While a more detailed inspection will be done later, it appeared that most of the exposed Ridge Route concrete along the northbound side was intact, with the later US 99 concrete being buried. The southbound lanes were also hit, though most of the old highway sections were still intact and relatively untouched.
Overall, the damage from these storms was very localized. As we approach a possibly strong El Nino winter, it is my hope that this storm was not a preview of things to come. As this winter progresses, this site will try to document the changes to our historic roadways throughout Southern California.
US 99, known as “The Old Road” in the Santa Clarita area, has had a varied past. It was first built through this area in 1930 as a three-lane highway. This roadway, known then as the Newhall Alternate, would be the first of many versions of the road through this pass.
In 1949, the roadway was temporarily widened to four lanes by restriping and adding some paving to the shoulder. This was done as the real work to upgrade the highway wouldn’t commence for a couple of years. Evidence of this widening can still be seen today.
In 1951, US 99 was realigned and finally upgraded to an expressway, though this would not last long. Just south of this point, the highway was realigned again to accomodate a new freeway from the Tunnel Station Junction (US 6 and Foothill Blvd) to Sepulveda Junction (State Route 7). This freeway still exists today in part and serves as the “Truck Route” through the pass.
Starting in 1967 and ending in 1975, the pass was yet again the site of major construction. This time, little of the old highway would be utilized as the new route of Interstate 5 bypassed much of the existing route. Where it didn’t bypass the alignment, it was torn up and completely replaced with the current roadway.
US 99 would, however, serve as the main route one last time following the January 17, 1994 Reseda / Northridge earthquake. Portions of I-5 collapsed during the earthquake, resulting in a need for a quick replacement. The resulting detours created an alignment very similar to the pre-1967 highway, giving motorists (albeit not with joy) a chance to drive old US 99 again. Upgrades were made to the highway through the pass including repaving, guardrail, and a temporary prohibition on left turns. Sadly, for highway historians, this resulted in the loss of the 1951 concrete and some curbing. It is a price to pay to help keep California’s Backbone functioning during a crisis.
This month marks 16 years for me as an Adopt-A-Highway program volunteer. In August 1998, I adopted a section of Interstate 5 in Grapevine Canyon in Kern County. To be more specific, my section is on Route 5 between Postmiles 6 and 8 in Kern County. I chose that section initially as it allowed me to inspect sections of old US 99 that I couldn’t reach before. Now that I have adopted it and have a permit, I can stop along that segment and see the old roadway.
I found that the section I adopted was also quite scenic and special. Of all the sections of Grapevine Canyon, mine has the most of the wild grapes that gave the canyon its name. It also contains one of the more famous sections of the original Grapevine Grade, Deadmans Curve. During wildflower season, the canyon is green and alive with yellow, orange, and purple flowers. Deer, hawks, and other wildlife can be spotted in the canyon as well.
Passing through Grapevine Canyon now gives me a sense of pride. I’ve actually gone there many times to help clean the highway, given stranded motorists help, and fixed things along the roadway. It is something that I enjoy doing and something that I don’t do often enough. When I first adopted it, I lived in Santa Clarita. Now I live in San Diego, much further away. As a result, I don’t clean it as often but still try to get up there as much as I can. I’ve also had the help of friends at times which has been nice.
I encourage all those that have the ability to adopt a roadway to do so. You can help clean up some of your community, or even someone else’s in my case. You can help others and can be a lot of fun. Most counties and states have this sort of program. Find out what your local agency has and find a section to adopt. You never know what you might find out there.