Southern California freeways

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The Southern California freeways are a network of interconnected freeways in the megaregion of Southern California, serving a population of 22 million people. A comprehensive freeway plan was produced in 1947 and with construction beginning in the 1950s. The plan hit opposition and funding limitations in the 1970s and by 2004 some 61% of the original planned network had been completed.

Interstate and State Highway System of Southern California
Metropolitan Los Angeles Freeway System and Metropolitan Inland Empire



Southern California's romance with the automobile owes in large part to resentment of the Southern Pacific Railroad's tight control over the region's commerce in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. During his successful campaign for governor in 1910, anti-Southern Pacific candidate Hiram Johnson traveled the state by car (no small feat at that time). In the minds of Southlanders, this associated the automobile with clean, progressive government, in stark contrast to the railroads' control over the corrupt governments of the Midwest and Northeast. While the Southern Pacific-owned Pacific Electric Railway's famous Red Car streetcar lines were the axis of urbanization in Los Angeles during its period of spectacular growth in the 1910s and 1920s, they were unprofitable and increasingly unattractive compared to automobiles. As cars became cheaper and began to fill the region's roads in the 1920s, Pacific Electric lost ridership. Traffic congestion soon threatened to choke off the region's development altogether. At the same time, a number of influential urban planners were advocating the construction of a network of what one widely read book dubbed "Magic Motorways", as the backbone of suburban development. These "greenbelt" advocates called for decentralized, automobile-oriented development as a means of remedying both urban overcrowding and declining rates of home ownership.

Traffic congestion was of such great concern by the late 1930s in the Los Angeles metropolitan area that the influential Automobile Club of Southern California engineered an elaborate plan to create an elevated freeway-type "Motorway System," a key aspect of which was the dismantling of the streetcar lines, to be replaced with buses that could run on both local streets and on the new express roads.[1] In the late 1930s when the freeway system was originally planned locally by Los Angeles city planners, they had intended that there were to have been light rail tracks installed in the center margin of each freeway (these would presumably have carried Pacific Electric Railway red cars), but this plan was never fully implemented.[2]

Planning and construction[edit]

During World War II, transportation bottlenecks on Southern California roads and railways convinced many that if Southern California was to accommodate a large population, it needed a completely new transportation system. The city of Los Angeles favored an upgraded rail transit system focused on its central city. However, the success of the Arroyo Seco Parkway, built between Los Angeles and Pasadena in 1940, convinced many that a freeway system could solve the region's transportation problems. Leaders of surrounding cities, such as Whittier, South Gate, Long Beach, and Pasadena, accordingly called for a web of freeways to connect the whole region, rather than funneling their residents out of their own downtowns and into that of Los Angeles. Pro-freeway sentiments prevailed, and by 1947, a new comprehensive freeway plan for Los Angeles (based largely on the original locally-planned 1930s system, but without the light rail tracks in the median strips of the freeways) had been drawn up by the California Department of Public Works (now "Caltrans"). San Diego soon followed suit, and by the early 1950s, construction had begun on much of the region's freeway system.


By the 1970s, many cities in the United States, including Los Angeles, were experiencing widespread freeway and expressway revolts,[3] there was significant political opposition[citation needed] and the 1973 oil crisis raised fuel prices dramatically. Growing interest in mass transit resulted in reduced funds being available for freeway construction. The tax revolt of the time also reduced the resources available for infrastructure development[citation needed] and California Proposition 13, which was enacted in 1978, also reduced funds available for highway construction.[citation needed] The 1982 Surface Transportation Assistance Act mandated that a some 11% of the Highway Trust Fund should be used for mass transit schemes. The Century Freeway, which opened in 1993 following widespread community opposition, is likely to be the last freeway built using traditional funding.

Overall, only 61% of the freeway miles proposed in the 1954 master plan were built (as of 2004) with a number of key freeways left incomplete or unbuilt; the Long Beach and Glendale freeways were not completed and the Laurel Canyon and Beverly Hills freeways were never started. Other routes which presented expensive engineering challenges (e.g. the Angeles Crest and the Decker Freeways) were also dropped. The result was a system with gaps and bottlenecks. That is, many of the freeways that were actually built ended up with traffic levels far above their original capacity because planners had expected that traffic to be carried by other freeways that were never built.

By contrast, San Diego County is nearing completion of its originally planned freeway system and is using regional sales tax money to support various extensions and building new toll roads like State Route 125 to fill in the remaining gaps.[4] The only major freeway not built was State Route 252 through Barrio Logan.[5] Since the 1980s, nearby Orange County embarked on a program of tollway construction using local funds, and began to apply local financing to freeway construction as well after the turn of the 21st century with the passage and extension of Measure M.

Revival of interest in mass transit[edit]

After a deep recession in the early 1990s caused by the collapse of the defense industry at the end of the Cold War and the closure of naval bases, Southern California began to grow again in the latter part of the decade. As in many other cities with rapidly growing populations, the region's infrastructure has had difficulty in keeping up. Traffic congestion in Los Angeles is the worst in the nation, and has been the worst since at least the early 1980s.[6] However, even in the face of the state budget crisis of the early 2000s, plans have been drawn up to radically expand the region's transportation network to accommodate population growth that has already swelled the region's population to 18 million (as of the U.S. Census of 2010) and may see it grow to 25 or even 30 million in the coming decades. Environmentalist sentiments, high fuel prices, and the dearth of available land may result in future development taking a pattern along the mass transit-oriented lines of the "smart growth" school's recommendations.

Beginning originally in the 1970s, a variety of factors, including environmental concerns, an increasing population, and the high price of gasoline, led to calls for mass transit other than buses. In 1976, the State of California formed the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission to coordinate the Southern California Rapid Transit District's efforts with those of various municipal transit systems in the area and to take over planning of countywide transportation systems. The SCRTD continued planning of the Metrorail Subway (the Red Line), while the LACTC developed plans for the light rail system. After decades, the wheels of government began to move forward, and construction began on the Los Angeles County Metro Rail system in 1985. In 1988, the two agencies formed a third entity under which all rail construction would be consolidated. In 1993, the SCRTD and the LACTC were finally merged into the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority which constructed subway lines and which today continues to construct new light rail and rapid transit lines.

Proposed/future freeways[edit]

Caltrans or local transportation agencies have identified the following priority freeway projects:


Freeway names[edit]

Southern California residents idiomatically refer to freeways with the definite article, as "the [freeway number]", e.g. "the 5" or "the 10". This use of the article differs from other American dialects, including that of Northern California, but is the same as in the UK (e.g. "Take the M1 to the M25") and other European countries (e.g. "La A1"). In addition, sections of the southern California freeway system are often referred to by names rather than by the official numbers. For example, the names Santa Monica and San Bernardino are used for segments of the Interstate 10 even though overhead freeway signs installed at interchanges since the 1990s don't display these names, using instead the highway number, direction, and control city. A freeway 'name' may refer to portions of two or more differently numbered routes; for example, the Ventura Freeway consists of portions of the U.S. Route 101 and the State Route 134.

Named interchanges[edit]

Other named features[edit]

Comparisons and 'firsts'[edit]

The Southern California area has fewer lane-miles per capita than most large metropolitan areas in the United States, ranking 31st of the top 39. As of 1999, Greater Los Angeles had 0.419 lane-miles per 1,000 people, only slightly more than Greater New York City and fewer than Greater Boston, the Washington Metropolitan Area and the San Francisco Bay Area. (American metros average .613 lane-miles per thousand) San Diego ranked 17th in the same study, with 0.659 lane-miles per thousand, and the Inland Empire ranked 21st, with 0.626.[16]

Limited-access roads not maintained by the state[edit]

The following of Limited-access roads are not maintained by the state:

List of freeways[edit]

Major freeways leading into and out of Southern California[edit]

San Diego area[edit]

Controlled access routes not maintained by the state[edit]

Inland Empire Metropolitan Area[edit]

(Includes San Bernardino, and Riverside Counties)

Greater Los Angeles[edit]

(includes Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura Counties)

Freeways and highways[edit]

California State Routes
Sign Freeways and State Route
California 1.svg Pacific Coast Highway (PCH)
Lincoln Boulevard
Sepulveda Boulevard
Oxnard Boulevard
Coast Highway
Camino las Ramblas
State Route 1
California 2.svg Angeles Crest Highway
Glendale Freeway
Santa Monica Boulevard
Alvarado Street
Glendale Boulevard
State Route 2
California 14.svg Antelope Valley Freeway State Route 14
California 18.svg Waterman Avenue State Route 18
California 19.svg Rosemead Boulevard
Lakewood Boulevard
State Route 19
California 22.svg Seventh Street
Garden Grove Freeway
State Route 22
California 23.svg Decker Road
Decker Canyon Road
Mulholland Highway
Westlake Boulevard
State Route 23
California 27.svg Topanga Canyon Boulevard State Route 27
California 33.svg Ojai Freeway State Route 33
California 38.svg State Route 38
California 39.svg San Gabriel Canyon Road
Azusa Avenue
Whittier Boulevard
Beach Boulevard
State Route 39
California 42.svg Manchester Ave
Manchester Boulevard
Firestone Boulevard
State Route 42
California 47.svg Terminal Island Freeway
Seaside Avenue
Vincent Thomas Bridge
State Route 47
California 52.svg Soledad Freeway State Route 52
California 54.svg South Bay Freeway
Filipino-American Highway
State Route 54
California 55.svg Costa Mesa Freeway
Newport Boulevard
State Route 55
California 56.svg Ted Williams Freeway State Route 56
California 57.svg Orange Freeway State Route 57
California 60.svg Pomona Freeway
Moreno Valley Freeway
State Route 60
California 66.svg Foothill Boulevard
E Street
State Route 66
California 67.svg Julian Road
San Vicente Freeway
State Route 67
California 71.svg Corona Expressway
Chino Valley Freeway
State Route 71
California 72.svg Whittier Boulevard State Route 72
California 73.svg San Joaquin Hills Transportation Corridor (toll road) State Route 73
California 74.svg Ortega Highway
Pines to Palms Highway[17]
State Route 74
California 75.svg San Diego-Coronado Bridge
Silver Strand Boulevard
State Route 75
California 76.svg Mission Avenue
Pala Road
Cuyamaca Highway
State Route 76
California 78.svg Vista Freeway
San Pasqual Valley Road
State Route 78
California 79.svg Winchester Road
Temecula Parkway
Firefighter Steven Rucker Memorial Highway
State Route 79
California 83.svg Euclid Avenue State Route 83
California 86.svg Indio Boulevard State Route 86
California 90.svg Marina Freeway
Imperial Highway
Richard Nixon Freeway
State Route 90
California 91.svg Artesia Boulevard
Gardena Freeway
Artesia Freeway
Riverside Freeway
State Route 91
California 94.svg Martin Luther King Jr. Freeway
Campo Road
State Route 94
California 107.svg Hawthorne Boulevard State Route 107
California 110.svg Pasadena Freeway State Route 110
California 111.svg Grapefruit Boulevard State Route 111
California 118.svg Ronald Reagan Freeway State Route 118
California 125.svg La Mesa Freeway State Route 125
California 126.svg Santa Paula Freeway State Route 126
California 133.svg Eastern Transportation Corridor (toll road)
Laguna Canyon Road
State Route 133
California 134.svg Ventura Freeway State Route 134
California 138.svg State Route 138
California 142.svg Carbon Canyon Road
Chino Hills Parkway
State Route 142
California 163.svg Cabrillo Freeway State Route 163
California 170.svg Hollywood Freeway
Highland Avenue
State Route 170
California 195.svg Pierce Street State Route 195
California 209.svg Catalina Boulevard
Canon Street
Rosecrans Street
State Route 209
California 210.svg Foothill Freeway State Route 210
California 213.svg Western Avenue State Route 213
California 241.svg Foothill
Eastern Transportation Corridor (toll road)
State Route 241
California 259.svg State Route 259 Freeway State Route 259
California 274.svg Balboa Avenue State Route 274
California 282.svg 3rd/4th Street State Route 282
California 371.svg Cahuilla Road State Route 371
California 905.svg Otay Mesa Freeway
Otay Mesa Road
State Route 905
Note: highway segments with names listed in italics are surface streets and not freeways.
Interstate Highways
Sign Freeways and Interstate
I-5 (CA).svg Golden State Freeway
Santa Ana Freeway
San Diego Freeway
Montgomery Freeway
Interstate 5
I-8 (CA).svg Ocean Beach Freeway
Mission Valley Freeway
Interstate 8
I-10 (CA).svg Santa Monica (Rosa Parks) Freeway
Golden State Freeway
San Bernardino Freeway
Indio (Dr. June McCarroll) Freeway
Blythe Freeway
Interstate 10
I-15 (CA).svg Mojave Freeway
Barstow Freeway
Ontario Freeway
Corona Freeway
Temecula Valley Freeway
Escondido Freeway
Interstate 15
I-105 (CA).svg Century (Glenn Anderson) Freeway Interstate 105
I-110 (CA).svg Harbor Freeway Interstate 110
I-210 (CA).svg Foothill Freeway Interstate 210
I-215 (CA).svg Barstow Freeway
San Bernardino Freeway
Moreno Valley Freeway
Escondido Freeway
Interstate 215
I-405 (CA).svg San Diego Freeway Interstate 405
I-605 (CA).svg San Gabriel River Freeway Interstate 605
I-710 (CA).svg Long Beach Freeway Interstate 710
I-805 (CA).svg Jacob Dekema Freeway Interstate 805
I-905 (CA).svg Future Interstate 905 Interstate 905
U.S. Highway system
Sign Freeways and US Route
US 6 (1961 cutout).svg U.S. Route 6
US 95 (CA).svg U.S. Route 95
US 101 (CA).svg Ventura Freeway
Hollywood Freeway
Santa Ana Freeway
El Camino Real
U.S. Route 101
US 395 (CA).svg U.S. Route 395


  1. ^ "Motorways Plan Revealed: System of Roads Designed to Cure Traffic Ills," Los Angeles Times, June 15, 1938
  2. ^ Hall, Peter Cities in Civilization: Culture, Technology, and Urban Order, London, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1998; New York, Pantheon Books, 1998 See section on Los Angeles
  3. ^ "Stop the Road Freeway Revolts in American Cities". Journal of Urban History. This article analyzes the freeway revolts that erupted in American cities in the 1960s and early 1970s. Until the mid-1960s, state and federal highway engineers had complete control over freeway route locations. New federal legislation in the 1960s gradually imposed restraints on highway engineers, providing freeway fighters with grounds for legal action. 
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  17. ^ Lech, Steve (2012). For Tourism and a Good Night's Sleep: J. Win Wilson, Wilson Howell, and the Beginnings of the Pines-to-Palms Highway. Riverside, CA: Steve Lech. p. 230. ISBN 978-0-9837500-1-7. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Carney, Steve. "From Superhighways To Sigalerts: Freeways Have Become Part Of Southland's Identity." Los Angeles Daily News, 21 September 1999, p. N4. ^
  • Hise, Greg (1999). Magnetic Los Angeles: Planning the Twentieth-Century Metropolis. Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-6255-8.
  • Taylor, Brian (2004). "The Geography of Urban Transportation Finance," pp 294–331 in Hanson and Giuliano eds., The Geography of Urban Transportation, 3rd Edition. The Guilford Press. ISBN 1-59385-055-7.
  • Schrank and T. Lomax, The Urban Mobility Report 2007. Texas Transportation Institute.

External links[edit]