The History of Los Angeles Freeways 

The 14 freeway. SIGNAL FILE PHOTO
The 14 freeway. SIGNAL FILE PHOTO

By Michele E. Buttelman 

Signal Staff Writer 

Los Angeles is famous for its freeways. If you were born and raised in Los Angeles County you have probably been driving the L.A. freeways your entire life. But what do you know about these legendary roads many used by Santa Clarita Valley residents? 

Freeway Syntax 

When referring to freeways Southern Californians use either its formal or colloquial name, such as the Antelope Valley Freeway, the San Diego Freeway or the Simi Valley Freeway. When locals use a freeway number it is always preceded by the word “the.” The I-5, the 14, the 10 is a habit unique to Southern California. The rest of the country, including Northern Californians, use the freeway number without using “the” in front of the number.  

The First L.A. Freeway 

The first Los Angeles freeway was the Arroyo Seco Parkway. It opened in 1940 and is one of the oldest freeways in the United States. This six-lane, eight-mile-long road linked Pasadena and downtown Los Angeles. 

Now it is referred to as the Pasadena Freeway by Southern Californians. Its formal name is State Route 110 and the road remains largely as it was on opening day, though the original plants in its median gave way to a steel guard rail and most recently to concrete barriers. 

The Arroyo Seco Parkway was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2011. 

In downtown Los Angeles State Route 110 becomes Interstate 110, the Harbor Freeway which ends in San Pedro. The entire freeway length from Pasadena to San Pedro is 32 miles.  

The opening of the first section of the Antelope Valley Freeway. Beauty queens flank then LA County Supervisor Warren Dorn. SIGNAL FILE PHOTO
The opening of the first section of the Antelope Valley Freeway. Beauty queens flank then LA County Supervisor Warren Dorn. SIGNAL FILE PHOTO

The Antelope Valley Freeway 

The Antelope Valley Freeway, State Route 14, was built in sections from 1963 to 1975. It is a 117-mile state highway that begins in the Newhall Pass and ends at US Route 395 near Inyokern.   

The first section of freeway, from just west of Sand Canyon Road to Ward Road, opened on Oct. 15, 1963.  

An official grand opening ceremony was held on Aug. 23, 1963. The day’s event began with a helicopter ribbon cutting at Sand Canyon. Nearly 2,500 SCV residents lined the Sand Canyon overpass as then Los Angeles County 5th District Supervisor Warren Dorn rode in the helicopter and local beauty queens held the ribbon across the width of the freeway so the helicopter could slice through it during the ceremony. 

The official dedication concluded under the freeway overpass at Ward Road in Acton with political speeches, including one by Los Angeles City Mayor Sam Yorty.  

The last segment of SR-14, from San Fernando Road to I-5, opened in 1975.  

Plans call for the last sections of two-lane roadway on the Antelope Valley Freeway, between Red Rock Canyon and the east State 178 junction to be upgraded to expressway status. This will make SR-14 at least four-lanes for its entire length.  

The Golden State Freeway 

Locals call Interstate 5 the Golden State Freeway, a holdover from US 99 which was known as the Golden State Highway. I-5 follows much of the route of the old US 99. I-5 was originally created in 1956 as part of the national Interstate Highway System 

I-5 runs 1,381 miles from the Mexican boarder to Canada. Much of I-5 was completed in stages from 1954 to 1970.  

The route through California’s Central Valley was the last section of I-5 to be constructed, it opened to traffic near Stockton on Oct. 12, 1979. 

The I-5 corridor forms part of the West Coast Electric Highway, a partnership between the states of California, Oregon and Washington to build and maintain a network of charging stations for electric vehicles. The pact was formed in 2009 and the first charging stations, spaced 25 to 50 miles apart, opened in 2011. 

In 2019, the three states broke ground on a similar charging network for electric trucks along I-5 called the West Coast Clean Transit Corridor Initiative. 

The 14 freeway. SIGNAL FILE PHOTO 

The San Diego Freeway 

Interstate 405, which is known as the San Diego Freeway, branches off the I-5 to the south near San Fernando and merges back into the I-5 at the “El Toro Y” in Irvine. It actually never reaches San Diego. The most notable feature of the 72-mile-long freeway is the Sepulveda Pass, which recently received a five-year, $1.6 billion upgrade. 

The first section of the I-405, north of Los Angeles International Airport, was built between 1957 and 1961. The section of the freeway through Sepulveda Pass was dedicated on Dec. 21, 1962. Additional sections were completed in 1962 and 1963. 

The final section of I-405, which leads to the I-5 in Irvine, took 13 years to build. It was dedicated on Dec. 6, 1968, and opened to traffic in January 1969.  

The Foothill Freeway 

In 1958, construction began on Interstate 210, which is also called the Foothill Freeway. The first section, starting at the eastern end of Foothill Boulevard in what is now La Cañada Flintridge to Canada Avenue in Pasadena, was opened in 1966; it was then designated SR-118. 

Construction on the portion from La Cañada  Flintridge to the junction in Sylmar occurred between 1971 and 1977. At Sylmar is where the Foothill Freeway meets the I-5. 

However, the portion between Sunland Boulevard and Wheatland Avenue was not fully completed until 1981. From 1976 to 1980, the uncompleted section of the I-210 was rented by MGM Television for the filming of the television series “CHiPs.” 

Additional eastern sections of the freeway were constructed until the final link east to San Bernardino opened on July 24, 2007. The I-210 is a combination of the interstate highway as well as State Route 210. It is hoped that the entire 85-mile length of the freeway will carry the I-210 designation in the near future.

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