Category Archives: Old Bridge

A tunnel on US 80?

In the late 1940’s, plans were being drawn for improvements to US 80 in San Diego County. The highway, as it was then, had changed little since its last upgrade between 1928 and 1932. While much of the highway was on a better alignment than before, the section between Alpine and Descanso still needed more work done. This part of the roadway still had sharp curves and steep grades. The combination of these conditions, including increasing traffic, made it rather treacherous at times.

Portion of the highway plans showing the realignment between Willows and Ellis.

In 1950, the first phase of improvements were made to this segment of highway. Beginning near the present-day West Willows interchange, a new alignment was constructed. This new alignment had a shallower grade than the original alignment. It was also a lot straighter. It followed eastbound I-8 until near East Willows. At the present-day East Willows interchange, the alignments met again. From there, the old alignment was straightened quite a bit. Portions of this new alignment are still in use as the westbound lanes of I-8.

Detail view of the tunnel location. West portal is located at the arrow.
Aerial photo of Deadman’s Curve near Viejas, CA. Note the provisions built for the tunnel on the west (left) side of the large curve.

At the large curve, known as “Dead Man’s Curve”, the 1950 improvements ended. It was at that curve, however, that a tunnel was planned to be constructed. The tunnel was a part of an additional phase of improvements that were never constructed. It would have been about 800 feet long and two lanes wide. I have not found any drawings of what the tunnel may have looked like. Most likely, however, it would have had a stone-faced portal, similar to other tunnels constructed around that time. Grading for the tunnel was partially done on the west side, though nothing was done on the east end.

Plans for the Sweetwater River Bridge near Los Terrinitos. Note the proposed alignments on either side of the bridge.

East of the tunnel, the alignment would have taken a different course. Instead of following the original alignment, a new one would be built, similar to the I-8 alignment, but rejoining US 80 near Los Terrinitos. There, a new bridge was constructed over the Sweetwater River bridge, bypassing the original 1917 bridge to the south. East of Descanso, another realignment was planned, though no provisions for this ever got past the planning stage. This bridge, along with the improvements to the west, were planned to be a part of an eventual US 80 expressway or freeway alignment. All of these plans were put on hold as other projects in the region.

When plans shifted from upgrading US 80 to the construction of a brand new freeway, the tunnel plan was scrapped. Instead of a tunnel, a deep cut would be dug into the mountain, allowing for a more even grade across the area. The alignment chosen also reduced the number of river crossings from three to one. The freeway alignment also bypassed the section of US 80 through Guatay. In doing so, it had to cross Pine Valley creek at a rather deep section. The valley was bridged using a new method called “Segmental Balanced Cantilever”, which resulted in the highest bridge on the Interstate system at 450 feet above the floor of the canyon.

Plans for I-8 between West Willows and State 79 (Descanso)
Detailed plans for the tunnel area showing the old alignment in relation to the present freeway.

Today, little remains of the tunnel’s planned location. Only vestiges of the old alignment can be seen around the large cut where the tunnel was planned. A vista point was constructed within the cut as well, at the edge of which a portion of the original alignment can be seen. I-8 also utilizes a portion of the 1950’s alignment. From near Viejas Creek to just west of East Willows, the two outermost lanes of I-8 eastbound mostly use the 1950’s concrete, with portions replaced and a new lane added to the left. From East Willows to near the Vista Point, westbound I-8 follows the 1950’s alignment, while not using the paving as it does to the west, it does follow the grade. You can see this in the road cuts as the style of cut is different between each side of the freeway.

Following US 80 and its history across the mountains east of San Diego is fascinating. As technology progressed, each alignment became better and easier to travel. Unlike many other highways in California, US 80 didn’t go through an expressway phase. It went from a two lane highway to a four lane freeway on a new alignment. In doing so, the brief period when the original alignment was to be upgraded brought some interesting ideas. The tunnel, as well as some of the extra bridges planned, were a part of those ideas. They would be lost to time if it weren’t for a few bits of information on roadway plans from that era. In time, I may uncover yet more mysteries and unbuilt sections of the highway still unknown.

US 6 – Santa Clara River Bridge – A Closer Look

US Highway 6, now known as Sierra Highway, crossed the Santa Clara River near Solemint, California. The bridge it originally used, constructed in 1938, is planned to be replaced in the near future. This bridge is one of the oldest remaining in the Santa Clarita area and is the longest span on former US 6 in California. The bridge has remained almost intact from its original construction. The only changes have been minor to the bridge itself. The highway, however, has changed quite a bit. In 1968, Sierra Highway, then State Route 14, was widened to four lanes. A second bridge for northbound traffic was added, with the original bridge being used for southbound traffic.

Presently, Sierra Highway is six lanes wide at the river crossing. As the bridges were built with a four-lane highway in mind, only a narrow shoulder along both directions exists. This condition is one of the reasons the bridges across the Santa Clara River are being replaced.

In March of 2017, I took a trip to inspect in more detail the bridge and the surrounding area. It was nice to see the bridge again, as it brought back a lot of memories. I used to live near the bridge and crossed it almost daily. It will be sad to see it go as it is one of the last remaining pieces of the old highway. So, please, check it out yourself while you still can. I’m not quite sure when the construction will begin, it may have already.

Main Structure:

Side view, from the northern end. Note the small arches along each span.
Southern abutment and wing wall.
Between the 1938 and 1968 spans. Quite a difference between the girders.
Deck view, looking northerly from the south end.
Side view showing the railing, arched spans, and wing wall.

Detailing:

Underside view of the bridge.
Closeup of the west side railing from the south end of the bridge.
View showing the railing at the expansion joint.
Expansion joint that may have moved during an earthquake or from settling.
Expansion joint along the bridge deck.
Deck drain detail.
Remaining section of railroad rail and wire fence embankment protection.

Finding Old Highways – A Guide – Part 3 – Bridges

Bridges

Bridges and culverts can be great indicators of when a highway was built and by whom it was built. In California, there are a few different styles of railing which can be used to put a relative date on a particular bridge when they don’t have date stamps on them. Other indicators may be used when the bridge rail has been modified or even replaced by modern rail. Styling elements on the superstructure vary depending on age. Older bridges tend to be more ornate than more modern structures. This page will serve as a guide to these styles and help to increase understanding of what goes into the design of these bridges.

Continue reading Finding Old Highways – A Guide – Part 3 – Bridges

US 99 in Indio, CA

Old US 99 still has some gems remaining in the Coachella Valley. On of these is a set of railroad overpasses dating from 1936 and 1956 (56-09R/L). These structures may be replaced in the near future, so I took the opportunity to take some photos of them before they are gone. Each structure is different in type of construction as well as design. The 1936 structure retains its solid concrete railing, something somewhat unique for the period. Most bridges of that era had a more open and arched railing. This bridge has a very much “Art Deco” styling which still looks quite nice today. The bridge carried all US 99 traffic until 1956, when US 99 was upgraded to an expressway through this area. At that time, a second bridge for southbound/eastbound traffic was built. The 1956 span, a steel girder structure, is longer than the 1936 span. This may be due to plans, at that time, to eventually replace the 1936 bridge with a newer and longer span. While these plans may have been initially thwarted by the construction of I-10 on a new alignment east of here, the bridges days are indeed numbered with the reconstruction of the Jefferson St interchange and eventual realignment of roadways in this area.

These bridges are located on Indio Blvd just east of the Jefferson St interchange on I-10 in Indio, CA. Enjoy them while they last.

Detail of 1936 railing and date stamp.
Detail of 1936 railing and date stamp.
Recessed reflectors in the 1936 bridge end caps.
Recessed reflectors in the 1936 bridge end caps.
FAP (Federal Aid Primary) project sign on the 1957 bridge.
FAP (Federal Aid Primary) project sign on the 1956 bridge.
Comparison between the 1936 rail and 1957 rail.
Comparison between the 1936 rail and 1956 rail.
The different lengths of each bridge is well demonstrated in this photo.
The different lengths of each bridge is well demonstrated in this photo.

Old Rialto Ave and Arrow Route in San Bernardino, CA

Sometimes when a road gets realigned, a portion of the old roadway remains as an access road. This was the case when a small section of Rialto Ave (Arrow Highway/Route) was realigned in 1961 between Rancho Ave and Mt Vernon Ave. This realignment left behind a short span from the 1940’s. The bridge doesn’t have a date stamp nor is it still in the county bridge logs, so an exact date is tougher to find. Still, this bridge has a fine example of bridge rail from that era and is a good find.

Detail of railing
Detail of railing
Bridge over Lytle Creek with the realignment in the background.
Bridge over Lytle Creek with the realignment in the background.

Finding Old Highways – A Guide – Part 2

Concrete Paving

Concrete is a very durable material. It has many uses, though for our purposes – roadway surfaces, curbs, and sidewalks. Local roadways, such as concrete city streets, won’t be covered in this post. Bridges will be covered in a later post. This durability allows us to get either a relative date of when a roadway was paved or built to an absolute date when we find a date stamp.

  • Style of Paving
Short section of Roberts Rd that is now a driveway.
Short section of Roberts Rd that is now a driveway.
1920's paving near Osborne St. Note the widening work that was done on the right side. Looking west.
1920’s paving near Osborne St. Note the widening work that was done on the right side. Looking west.

As technology has evolved, so has concrete paving. The first concrete paving along State Highways was 10-12′ wide, usually not reinforced with steel. These roads were paved in one single slab of concrete. Roadways of this style were paved from around 1910 to 1915. After 1915, wider paving was used and was generally reinforced. Wider paving ran from 15′, 18′, and a “full” 20′. These are usually referred to as “Single Slab Paving”.

Sometime around 1923, longitudinal joints were added to the concrete paving. This created a “Twin Slab” roadway. This style persists today, though greatly changed. Early Twin Slab roadways had fewer expansion joints running across the lane. After around 1926, this problem was worked out by adding more frequent joints. By this time, each lane was a “standard” 10′. This standard remained until the late 1940’s when lane width started to widen to 12′.

  • Date Stamps
1948 date stamp on Olympic Blvd.
1948 date stamp on Olympic Blvd.

Contractors, either by requirement or pride, usually stamp the concrete roadway, curb, or sidewalk with a date stamp. These stamps vary in location, size, and information. Date stamps marked either the beginning or end of a days paving. As such, the stamp tended to be located near an expansion joint. A general rule with date stamps is “find one, you can find the rest”. This is mostly about the location. Some stamps are in the middle of a lane, some are to the side of a lane. The orientation also varies with stamps. The information contained in these stamps also varies. Early stamps just have the contractor and the date. Later stamps added the engineering station. Without going into too much detail, at this time, about engineering stations, the “zero” point is at the beginning of a road section or project. With little exception, I have had little success in finding a date stamp on Single Slab roadways. Twin Slab roadways are much better with stamps.

Using date stamps and styles as a guide, you can easily date a roadways construction to within a few years. There are other methods you can use, but these aren’t covered here. Some will be covered in later posts. Stay tuned for more posts. Bridges, Road Signs, and more will be covered in the future. If you have any questions, please post a comment or send me a message.