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.
This weekend, I am travelling to the Liebre Mountains to inspect the damage from the recent storms on the Ridge Route, Grapevine Canyon, and the Ridge Route Alternate. I plan to inspect in detail those sections and take lots of photos. Updates on the status of the roadway will be initially via my Twitter account (@SocalRegionWeb) with a post update following. The sections I plan to cover in detail are Palomas Canyon (Five Mile Grade), Three Mile Grade, Ridge Route from State 138 to the Tumble Inn, Tejon Pass, and Grapevine Canyon. I’ll be taking my 2014 Kawasaki KLR 650 which will allow me access to more of the highway. Stay tuned for updates.
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 year, the Ridge Route will be celebrating its 100 year anniversary. While the roadway is still not fully open to travel and has not been since January 2005, it is still there and still coming up to its century mark. This celebration will be held in Lebec at the El Tejon School, located near the top of Grapevine Grade on Lebec Road. For more information, please contact the Ridge Route Communities Museum. The road also needs your help and pressure to reopen the roadway to the public. For more information about this issue, contact the Ridge Route website.
From the Ridge Route Communities website:
CENTENNIAL CELEBRATION – 10/3
It has been 100 years since the Ridge Route Road opened
Come celebrate with the Ridge Route Preservation Organization and the Ridge Route Communities Museum & Historical Society
from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
at El Tejon School right on the old two lane highway
across I-5 from Fort Tejon
There will be displays, antique automobiles, food, music,
souvenirs and a panel of speakers at 1 p.m.
Also that day there will be a
Living History Program at Fort Tejon
When looking for old highways, there are many clues you can use to help discover where old highways ran. This will serve as a partial guide to finding those clues and figuring out the history of a roadway in California.
When you are looking for clues if a roadway you are on is an old State Highway, there are a few things to look out for. Depending on the age and location, look out for Right of Way monuments. In California, these are small concrete blocks with a C on the side of them, facing the roadway. They tend to be at the fence line along roadways, at the same distance as the utility poles, or further out. How much they stick out also varies. Some are just a few inches above the ground where others are about a foot high. Look out for these monuments at the beginning or ending of a curve usually about 50-100′ from the centerline of the roadway (or former centerline).
Other clues tend to be tougher to spot but can be very subtle in appearance. Roadways that were formerly paved with concrete instead of asphalt are usually cracked in a very specific way if the asphalt is old enough. Expansion joints in the concrete, potholes exposing the old paving, or a defined crack running near the roadway edge usually give this away. Older concrete paving was either 15′, 18′, or 20′ wide. Modern roadways are usually 24′ wide, with two 12′ lanes. Look out for this concrete at curves which appear to have been straightened.
On some roadways bypassed or abandoned after 1964, old postmile markers can be found. These markers are similar to the ones on current State Highways. On a current roadway with R mileage, look for old alignments in the area. R mileage indicates a realignment that took place after 1964, which is the point of “base mileage” for California State Highways.
Abandoned roadways are tougher to spot depending on the area climate. Drier climates tend to preserve older paving better than wetter climates. In some areas, the paving itself was removed after the roadway was bypassed. I have found a few sections of roadway relatively intact, complete with old striping, in Central and Eastern California. When the pavement has disintegrated or obliterated, you can look out for areas where there is less vegetation and distinct roadway grade. Sometimes old drainage culverts and bridges are left behind with nothing but dirt grade leading to them.
In any area, make sure to take plenty of photos if you find an old alignment. You never really know when the local jurisdiction will come along and either obliterate or repave the roadway. This is fairly common in Los Angeles County as I have found. The most recent loss has been the June 1933 three lane concrete in Gorman along old US 99 which was repaved in the past couple years. Document what you find as best as you can. Doing so will help to preserve the memory of these forgotten roadways for many years to come.
Realigned sometime in the 1930’s, the original alignment of US 99 is still visible near the intersection of Valley Blvd and Pepper Ave. Little remains of the original paving of US 99 through the Los Angeles area, so this is a special section.
Around late 2007, Valley Blvd was again realigned to better accommodate traffic at the I-10 interchange. Sections of the 1930’s paving are now sticking out from under the asphalt.