Cajon Pass Tour Update

After reviewing the weather forecast for August 12 in the Cajon Pass area, it will be hot. Potentially, a bit over 100 degrees. As such, I am changing the start time of the tour to 8 am instead of 10 am. The start location is still the same in Devore, CA. I know that is a bit of a change, but an earlier start will help with the heat. I strongly recommend bringing water and a hat. If it gets hotter, I may postpone the tour until a later date, most likely September 9.

If anyone has questions about the tour or is interested in attending, please let me know. Thank you and I hope to see you out there!

August 12, 2017 Cajon Pass Highway Tour – Updated

South end of Blue Cut showing fire damage.

On August 12, 2017, I will be hosting this websites first highway tour in the Cajon Pass area. This tour will cover the roadway from Verdemont to Cajon Summit. Some portions will have to be skipped, unfortunately, due to fire-related closures. The start of the tour has changed from the initial announcement. It will now begin at Devore, in front of Tony’s Diner at 18291 Cajon Blvd, San Bernardino, CA 92407 at 8 am. Please do not park in their parking lot. There is plenty of on-street and off-street parking in the area.

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After a brief introduction, we plan to leave at about 8:30 am. The tour will stop at the following locations:

  • Verdemont (backtrack)
  • Cajon Blvd (at the freeway)
  • Kenwood Ave
  • Keenbrook
  • Blue Cut
  • Debris Cone Creek
  • Cajon Junction
  • Cajon Summit

Additional stops may be added if needed. I strongly recommend bringing water and snacks as there are few water/food stops along the route. Please RSVP if you plan to attend this tour. Again, we will be leaving the starting point no later than 8:30 am. Please RSVP no later than August 11 so that I can get a rough number of how many will attend. I look forward to seeing you out there!

Poll results and the first tour

Just north of Kenwood Road looking toward Keenbrook. Burn area is evident near the trees in the distance as well as in the mountains.

After taking a small poll on this site regarding possible highway tours, the results are in. It would seem that the Cajon Pass area was the most popular. As such, it will be the first tour given. Unless conditions warrant otherwise, the first tour will be on August 12, 2017. It will begin at the San Bernardino Metrolink station at 10 am. While a more exact itinerary will be created in the near future, the tour will cover the highway as well as the geology from the train station to Cajon Summit. The tour will be in a caravan style with specific stopping points. There may be some short hikes as well to see old pavement, alignments, or bridges. There will also be no cost for the tour. Please RSVP as soon as you can so I can get an idea of how many may show. It should be a lot of fun and I hope to see you out there!

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.

Highway Tours Coming

While it is still early in the process, I am considering developing some in-person highway tours of some of the historic routes in Southern California. The basic idea thus far is to have specific stops, most likely in a caravan-style tour.  The geology and history of the locations will be covered in addition to other fun facts. Which roadway gets picked depends on how the polling goes.

Vote in our poll and let us know what road you want to see first. Most likely, the first tour will be in August. When may be dependent on weather and other issues.

The FasTrak experiment continues…

FasTrak is an interesting thing in California. Instead of one unified system, it is broken up into many different agencies with different rules and transponders. Recently, I posted about the research I had done into Southern California agencies and their requirements. One I hadn’t really looked into, the San Francisco Bay Area, seems to have different rules than most of the agencies down here.

So, I decided to see if I could use a “FasTrak Flex” transponder in lieu of my 91 Express Lanes transponder for vehicles other than my motorcycles, such as my husbands vehicle, and still get the discounted tolls and free travel on the lanes that require the transponder. I should see very soon if I can and if there is any sort of extra cost for having this new account. If it works out, I will cancel my existing account with the 91 Express Lanes and keep the SF Bay area account.

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.

FasTrak and Express Lane Information

After having done a fair amount of research into how roads in Southern California are tolled and how each agency handles the tolling itself, I decided it was time to add another page to the site. Seeing as how each agency uses FasTrak in a different way and that there are, at least for now, five different agencies, each with their own transponder, in the region, it was time to help clarify some things. Please use the link below to access the new page. I hope the new page helps explain the confusion that is FasTrak.

FasTrak and Express Lanes