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The History of Southern California Freeway Development
(Part 1 — 1940s)


The freeway era in Southern California started with the construction of the Arroyo Seco Parkway in 1940. This route, which was part of US 66, is now the Pasadena Freeway, Route 110. Since the creation of the route, regional planners have been working towards the goal of a comprehensive regional freeway and expressway system.

Freeway planning for the region started with the report "Freeways for the Region" from the Regional Planning Commission. This presented the original plan for a regional system of freeways. According to the foreword of the report, the plan was developed "in fulfillment of an order of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, given on July 13, 1936." It talks about five routes as the nucleus of the plan (the following is a quote from the report):

1943 Parkway Plan
(Fig 1-1. Central Section - Plan for Parkways. Click for full size image)
(Image source: Freeways for the Region)

The report identified the following additional projects:


[Thumbnail: 1947 Freeway Plan]
(Click on image for the full size map. Full-size image size: 174K.)
Figure 1-2. 1947 Master Plan of Metropolitan Los Angeles Freeway adopted by the Regional Planning Commission
[Thumbnail: 1949 ACSC Plan]
(Click on image for the full size map. Full-size image size: ~370K.)
Figure 1-3. 1949 Proposed Parkway Plan—Automobile Club of Southern California (ACSC)
[1946 Parkway Map]
(Click on image for the full size map. Full-size image size: ~880K.)
Figure 1-4. 1946 Proposed Parkway Plan—Los Angeles

Figure 1-1 shows the 1947 Master Plan as developed by the Regional Planning Commission. Others also were preparing plans at this time; Figure 1-3 shows the proposed Parkway System developed by the Auto Club of Southern California. There was also a complete 1946 Report: "Interregional, Regional, Metropolitan Parkways in the Los Angeles Metro Area" This plan (Figure 1-4) recognized the upcoming freeway system. The interstates were referred to as the "United States Interregional Highway System", and included five Southern California routes:

Route No. Description Length Estd. Cost
1 San Bernadino Parkway and portions of Riverside Parkway and Los Angeles River Freeway 26.1 mi $31,678,000
2 Ramona Parkway (excluding existing portions) 29.4 mi 27,800,000
3 Portions of Ventura (Riverside) Parkway and Hollywood Parkway (excluding existing portions of the latter) 39.0 mi 66,366,000
4 Santa Ana Parkway 12.8 mi 14,650,000
9 Portion of Santa Monica Parkway 11.0 mi 25,500,000
TOTALS......   118.3 mi  $165,994,000

The State Regional System was also acknowledged. It noted of the routes listed, 67 miles were included in the State Division of Highway's list of critical parkway projects needed in the immediate future:

Route No. Description Length Estd. Cost
5 Sepulveda Parkway 47.8 mi $53,453,000
6 Arroyo Seco-Harbor Parkway 19.0 mi 44,305,000
7 Portions of Inglewood Parkway 6.0 mi 16,508,000
8 Portions of Hollywood Parkway 6.3 mi 9,450,000
10 Portions of Slauson Parkway 9.5 mi 15,775,000
11 San Bernardino (Colorado) Freeway and portions of Riverside Parkway 41.9 mi 60,480,000
12 Portion of Temescal Parkway 4.0 mi 4,000,000
13 Foothill Freeway 28.5 mi 32,500,000
14 Concord Parkway and portions of Los Angeles River Freeway 26.5 mi 39,750,000
15 Portions of Olympic Parkway 3.6 mi 14,890,000
16 Portions of Pacific Coast Parkway 12.0 mi 19,200,000
Totals.....  205.1 mi  $310,303,000

The 1946 Plan proposed the following local routes:

[Table of Local Parkways]

As one can see, the plans were roughly similar, but had some distinct differences. Some of the routes on these plans correspond to existant highways today; some correspond to highways still on the books (as of 2000) but never constructed, and still others were only dreams of the planners. Even when planned, not all routes were in the state system. Here are some comments on how these plans compare to today's routes, as a baseline (alphabetical order):

Part 2 continues with how these routes morphed in the 1950s.


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Maintained by: Daniel P. Faigin <webmaster@cahighways.org>.