California State Route 54
SR 54 highlighted in red
|Defined by Streets and Highways Code § 354|
|Maintained by Caltrans and San Diego County|
|Length:||14.212 mi (22.872 km)|
|Existed:||1961 – present|
|West end:||I‑5 in National City|
|East end:||Jamacha Road at El Cajon city limit|
State Route 54 (SR 54) is a state highway in San Diego, California that connects Interstate 5 (I-5) in Chula Vista and National City to the city of El Cajon. The westernmost part of the highway is a freeway, intersecting with I-5, I-805, and SR 125; the part of the highway east of SR 125 is undivided, and portions are maintained by the county.
The first section of the freeway opened in 1963, east of I-805. The extension of the freeway west to I-5 was delayed because a flood channel for the Sweetwater River was built with the extension. While construction started in 1984, a court stopped the process for a few years, and this portion was not complete until 1992. The final section of freeway, which was upgraded from an expressway, opened in 2007, to coincide with the extension of SR 125 south to Otay Mesa.
SR 54 starts as a six-lane freeway from I-5 at the mouth of the Sweetwater River in National City, with westbound traffic traversing the north bank of the river and eastbound traffic traversing the south bank. Both sides join near the junction with I-805, and the roadway continues east for several miles through Paradise Hills in San Diego. As the freeway turns north, it merges with SR 125 north, and SR 54 exits at Jamacha Boulevard in La Presa. The routing follows Jamacha Boulevard as an undivided highway northeast through Spring Valley until reaching Campo Road, although some maps only sign Jamacha Boulevard as County Route S17 (CR S17), and the state does not maintain this portion of the route.
SR 54 then runs concurrently with SR 94 through the unincorporated but developed area of Rancho San Diego, following Campo Road about 0.5 miles (0.80 km) east. SR 54 and CR S17 continue northeast on six-lane Jamacha Road to El Cajon, while Campo Road and SR 94 split off to the southeast. East of Brabham Street, four-lane SR 54 continues to where it currently ends at the El Cajon city limit, though the Jamacha Road street name continues into the city to the route's previous terminus at the intersection with I-8.
SR 54 is part of the California Freeway and Expressway System, but is not part of the National Highway System (though SR 125 is), a network of highways that are essential to the country's economy, defense, and mobility. The route has three different names, including Jamacha Road from Campo Road to East Main Street in El Cajon, South Bay Freeway from I-805 to SR 94, and Filipino-American Highway from the western terminus to SR 125.
In 2013, SR 54 had an annual average daily traffic (AADT) of 22,500 at the eastern end of the route, and 127,000 between I-805 and Reo Drive, the latter of which was the highest AADT for the highway. In early 2012, portions of the interchange with I-5 were included on the Caltrans District 11's Spring 2012 Top Ten Congested Segments list.
In 1959, the California State Legislature added Route 280 from near the Sweetwater River to El Cajon to the state highway system. The South Bay Freeway was included in the county's 1960–1961 budget as the most important project. By 1961, E Street in Chula Vista continued along the Sweetwater River, turning northeast and becoming Sweetwater Road before entering into Lemon Grove.
Bidding took place in November 1962 for the part of the freeway from eastern National City and Valley Road to La Presa and Jamacha Road; it was to loosely parallel Sweetwater Road. This portion of freeway opened on September 27, 1963, and the entire project cost $2.25 million; however, it was declared as an expressway since there were at-grade intersections. Meanwhile, SR 54 was officially designated in the 1964 state highway renumbering.
Sweetwater River channel
SR 54 was extended west as a freeway to I-5 from I-805 at the same time the Sweetwater River flood control channel was constructed; the state proposed routing the flood channel in between the two roadways of the freeway in 1963, and it would also delineate the boundary between the cities of Chula Vista and National City. Later that year, the county proposed an extension of the freeway east to US 80 and Third Street in El Cajon. In 1966, the U.S. Army's Board of Engineers supported the construction of the flood channel, to protect the surrounding region from flooding; the integration of SR 54 was included in the proposal.
Two years later, county officials expressed concerns over the delay of getting state and federal approval, and considered building the freeway without the flood control component of the project. The county hoped to build both projects at the same time to save $4 million in costs, even though it was estimated to require three years' worth of legislation to be accomplished in a single year by the county board of supervisors  in order to use the Interstate Highway System funding that was set to expire in 1972. The U.S. Congress gave approval for the project. But later that year, it was announced that the target date for completing the system would be extended from 1972 to 1974.
By 1971, the projected start of construction had slipped to within three to four years from then; however, Caltrans had approved the project. In July 1974, the California Coastal Commission unanimously decided to halt the entire project, since many of the necessary approvals from governmental bodies had not been obtained; this overrode an exemption granted by the San Diego Coast Regional Commission. Both the mayors of Chula Vista and National City were dismayed at this; Mayor Kile Morgan of National City stated that "we in the South Bay are getting tired of being kicked around", referring to other stalled projects such as SR 157 and SR 125. Meanwhile, the interchange at I-805 was constructed, with completion scheduled for the next year. A U.S. Fish and Wildlife report predicted that the project would destroy 20 acres of marshland and harm three bird species that were endangered, among other negative environmental consequences; the conclusions were disputed by local officials.
In 1976, Caltrans said that SR 54 had not been included in construction plans for the next six years, due to a lack of funding and a shift in priorities to maintenance from the building of new road. The water subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives later recommended that the wildlife refuge be put on hold, since the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had not finished their proposal. Over the next few years, support for the project was expressed by a local citizens' group, the Chula Vista city council, and the San Diego Chamber of Commerce.
By 1980, funding was the major obstacle for completing the project, which the Army Corps of Engineers was working to resolve. Public concerns about the project were that it was not needed and would be too costly. The Army Corps of Engineers announced in 1981 that the need to do an environmental impact report was holding up the rest of the project, following the Endangered Species Act of 1973; the least tern and light-footed clapper rail were considered endangered, and construction would have affected their habitat. The next year, the environmental impact report process began, funded by the Army Corps of Engineers.
Construction on the part west of I-805 and the interchange with I-5 started in May 1984, with the construction of a detour for I-5; the Army Corps of Engineers paid for some of the costs, and federal funding related to the Interstate Highway System was also used. That same year, the county agreed to create a wildlife preserve on 188 acres of marshland to resolve the dispute. Meanwhile, the existing part of the South Bay Freeway had become the "most dangerous five-mile stretch of highway in the county", as declared by local fire chief Orville Moody, due to the high number of traffic accidents. By early 1986, the extension of the SR 54 freeway to El Cajon was declared a "lower priority" by Caltrans.
That year, the Sierra Club filed a lawsuit that halted construction on the project the next year, due to concerns about damage to the least tern and light-footed clapper rail bird populations caused by the construction of a nearby hotel and the effect that the construction of roads to the hotel would have. Chief U.S. District Judge Gordon Thompson stopped the work because the preserve had not been created. It was estimated that the shutdown resulted in the state losing $25,000 a day, as well as over 185 people being laid off.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service received 300 acres of land in the Sweetwater Marsh from the Santa Fe Land Company to mitigate the environmental damage, and the lawsuit reached a settlement. Construction resumed in early November 1989; the halting of construction meant that the project had to be rebid, and one bridge was partially constructed, resulting in it being known as "the bridge to nowhere". The eastbound roadway opened to traffic on December 10, 1990, at an approximate cost of $89.3 million. The westbound roadway was completed in July 1992.
The expressway portion east of I-805 to South Worthington Street was upgraded to a freeway in the late 1990s, and a HOV lane opened in each direction, east of I-805 only. The first part from I-805 to near Woodman Street was finished in November 1993. The second part was to begin the construction phase in 1994; this was complete by 1998. The state legislature allowed for the relinquishment of SR 54 from the El Cajon city limit to I-8 to the City of El Cajon in 1999, and the transfer took place that year.
The remaining expressway portion of SR 54 was replaced by a freeway in two phases in the late 1990s and the 2000s. The first phase corresponded with construction of SR 125 north of Jamacha Boulevard to SR 94; construction began in 1996 and was completed in 2003. The second phase consisted of the construction of the SR 125 toll road and opened on November 19, 2007. While California Transportation Ventures owned the franchise on the tolled portion of SR 125, the interchange with SR 54 was constructed with $160 million of public funding. From 2005 to 2007, 1.5 million cubic meters of rock were blasted through in 160 separate explosions to allow for the interchange to be built. The project to convert the HOV lanes to regular mixed traffic lanes was authorized in 2006. Caltrans determined that the lack of room for law enforcement to pull over those violating the carpool requirements, as well as a missing barrier separating the HOV lanes from regular traffic, made the lanes less effective. As of October 2014, Caltrans was considering relinquishing the part of SR 54 from the SR 94 junction up to the El Cajon city limits to the County of San Diego.
Except where prefixed with a letter, postmiles were measured on the road as it was in 1964, based on the alignment that existed at the time, and do not necessarily reflect current mileage. R reflects a realignment in the route since then, M indicates a second realignment, L refers an overlap due to a correction or change, and T indicates postmiles classified as temporary (for a full list of prefixes, see the list of postmile definitions). Segments that remain unconstructed or have been relinquished to local control may be omitted. The entire route is in San Diego County.
|National City||0.00||1||I‑5 (Montgomery Freeway)||Westbound exit and eastbound entrance; signed as exits 1A (south) and 1B (north); west end of SR 54; I-5 exit 9|
|0.40||1C||National City Boulevard, Broadway||Westbound exit and eastbound entrance|
|0.90||1D||Highland Avenue, 4th Avenue||Signed as exit 1 eastbound|
|1.88||2||I‑805 (Jacob Dekema Freeway)||I-805 north exit 8, south exit 9|
|National City||2.97||3||Plaza Bonita Center Way, Reo Drive|
SR 125 south (South Bay Expressway) – Chula Vista
|SR 125 north exit 11A|
|6.70||SR 125 north||Eastbound exit and westbound entrance; SR 125 exit 12|
|Gap in SR 54; east end of freeway|
|T10.99||SR 94 (Campo Road) – Campo, San Diego|
|T11.85||Willow Glen Drive – Jamul, Harbison Canyon|
|El Cajon||T14.21||East end of state maintenance at El Cajon city limit|
|T16.26||I‑8 – San Diego, El Centro||Interchange; I-8 exit 19|
|T16.26||2nd Street||Continuation beyond I-8|
|1.000 mi = 1.609 km; 1.000 km = 0.621 mi
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