The History of Los Angeles Freeways — Part 2 

The four-level interchange in downtown Los Angeles was the first stack interchange in the world. The interchange connects the Hollywood, Harbor, Pasadena and Santa Ana freeways. Photo Los Angeles Library Image Archive.
The four-level interchange in downtown Los Angeles was the first stack interchange in the world. The interchange connects the Hollywood, Harbor, Pasadena and Santa Ana freeways. Photo Los Angeles Library Image Archive.
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By Michele E. Buttelman 

Signal Staff Writer 

The History of L.A. Freeways Part 1 was published on August 6. It covered the construction of the first Los Angeles freeway, the Pasadena freeway, as well as the freeways most used by Santa Clarita Valley commuters, the Antelope Valley, Golden State, Foothill and San Diego freeways. 

However, Los Angeles County has more than 650 miles of freeways. There are 12 major freeways in L.A. County including those already mentioned as well as the Ventura, Santa Monica, Harbor, Glendale, Simi Valley, Hollywood and Century freeways.  

Los Angeles Harbor 110 and Hollywood 101 four-level freeway interchange. Photo Credit trekkerimages LLC
Los Angeles Harbor 110 and Hollywood 101 four-level freeway interchange. Photo Credit trekkerimages LLC

Simi Valley Freeway 

As is true of most other freeways, the Simi Valley Freeway started life as a state highway (SR-118) and traversed area roadways before land was purchased and cleared to construct the freeway we use now. 

The SR-118 freeway began construction in 1968 and the last section of freeway opened in 1979. The portion of freeway between Balboa Boulevard and Tampa Avenue was one of the last freeway segments to be built in the Los Angeles area. 

I remember driving from the I-5 to the Balboa Boulevard offramp in the late 1970s. At the time the freeway dead-ended at Balboa Boulevard in Granada Hills. It was eerie driving on the freeway at night because very few people were aware this portion of the freeway had opened to the public. 

Shortly afterwards, in 1979, the segment between Tampa Avenue and Balboa opened and traffic increased considerably.  

In December 1994, the portion of SR-118 formerly called the Simi Valley — San Fernando Valley Freeway was renamed the Ronald Reagan Freeway.  

The Simi Valley Freeway runs approximately 48 miles between the I-210 Foothill Freeway near San Fernando to SR-126 in Ventura.   

Ventura Freeway 

While commuters are very vocal about their dread of traveling on the San Diego Freeway and extremely disappointed that the recent $1.9 billion dollar “improvements” on the roadway have done little to ease congestion, the Ventura Freeway is also considered one of L.A. County’s “worst freeways.” 

The Ventura Freeway is part of U.S. Route 101, which in turn is a large part of El Camino Real, the longest highway in California.  

The El Camino Real is a 600-mile commemorative route connecting the 21 Spanish missions in California, along with a number of sub-missions, four presidios and three pueblos. The El Camino Real includes portions of several state routes.  

The Ventura Freeway extends from the Hollywood Freeway near Vineland Avenue in the San Fernando Valley to the Santa Barbara County line, a distance of 65.1 miles. 

This segment of the Ventura Freeway was built in the late 1950s and opened on April 5, 1960. 

At the Hollywood Split, the Ventura Freeway changes from US 101 to SR-134, where it continues east through Glendale and Eagle Rock before entering Pasadena. This 14-mile segment of SR-134 was built in 1971 and ends at the I-210, the Foothill Freeway. 

Prior to the construction of a new freeway alignment in 1971, the portion east of the Golden State Freeway was known as the Colorado Freeway in reference to nearby Colorado Boulevard, a historic thoroughfare in Pasadena. 

Construction of the Ventura Freeway through Thousand Oaks. The Ventura Freeway was built in the 1950s and opened in 1960. Photo Courtesy Oviatt Library Archive
Construction of the Ventura Freeway through Thousand Oaks. The Ventura Freeway was built in the 1950s and opened in 1960. Photo Courtesy Oviatt Library Archive

Hollywood Freeway 

At the “Hollywood Split” the 101 transitions from the Ventura Freeway as it becomes the Hollywood Freeway. It passes Universal Studios Hollywood and continues through the Cahuenga Pass into Hollywood and downtown Los Angeles where it ends at the East Los Angeles interchange.  

The Hollywood Freeway continues north of the “Hollywood Split” as SR-170, passing through the northeastern part of the San Fernando Valley before it ends, merging with the I-5, Golden State Freeway.  

The entire length of the Hollywood Freeway is only 16.6 miles.  

Plans for the Hollywood Freeway officially began in 1924 when Los Angeles voters approved funds for the construction an express highway between downtown and the San Fernando Valley. 

The first segment built was a one-and-a-half-mile stretch through the Cahuenga Pass which opened on June 15, 1940 and was known as the “Cahuenga Pass Freeway.”  

The next section, from the San Fernando Valley to downtown Los Angeles, opened on April 16, 1954. The final section, north of the Ventura Freeway to the Golden State Freeway was completed in 1968. 

A year after the Hollywood Freeway opened in 1955, it was used by an average of 183,000 vehicles a day, almost double the capacity it was designed to carry.  

The Hollywood Freeway also features the engineering marvel of 1954, the four-level interchange, still called “the four level” by SoCal residents. The interchange connects the Hollywood, Harbor, Pasadena and Santa Ana freeways. Historians believe it was built on the former site of the city of Los Angeles town gallows. 

Image by Tom Sramek Jr from Pixabay
Image by Tom Sramek Jr from Pixabay

Freeways That Never Were 

Despite the number and miles of freeways in Los Angeles County there have been many plans for new freeways that ran into roadblocks. 

Some freeway plans were ended by lawsuits and public opposition. Others died from lack of funds, or the increasing construction costs and costs  of buying land.  

Failed freeways include the Beverly Hills Freeway and the Laurel Canyon Freeway. Both were doomed by opposition from the rich and famous who didn’t want a freeway in their backyards.  

Two freeways that promised a fast concrete path from the ports in Long Beach to downtown Los Angeles, the Industrial Freeway and the Terminal Island Freeway never were built due to budget concerns.  

The most recent freeway plan to be scuttled is the “High Desert Freeway,” an $8 billion, 63-mile freeway announced in 2018. Money had been set aside to purchase land for the freeway that would connect the cities of Palmdale and Lancaster with Victorville, Apple Valley and Adelanto. 

Following a lawsuit concerning the project’s environmental impacts, the High Desert Freeway project was canceled in October 2019. 

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