Southern California freeways

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

The Southern California freeways are a vast network of interconnected freeways in the megaregion of Southern California, serving a population of 23 million people. The Master Plan of Metropolitan Los Angeles Freeways was adopted by the Regional Planning Commission in 1947 and construction began in the early 1950s.[1] The plan hit opposition and funding limitations in the 1970s, and by 2004, only some 61% of the original planned network had been completed.

The region is well known for its freeways, and they are considered a cultural touchstone.



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, which was 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.[2] In the late 1930s, when the freeway system was originally planned locally by Los Angeles city planners, they had intended for light rail tracks to have been installed in the center margin of each freeway (which would presumably have carried Pacific Electric Railway red cars), but this plan was never fully implemented.[3]

Planning and construction

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.

Proposed/future freeways

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


Freeway names

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. "die A1" in German). 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 U.S. Route 101 and State Route 134, and the San Diego Freeway consists of portions of Interstate 5 and the full length of Interstate 405.

When Southern California freeways were built in the 1940s and early 1950s, local common usage was primarily the freeway name preceded by the definite article.[18] It took several decades for Southern California locals to start to also commonly refer to the freeways with the numerical designations, but the usage of the definite article persisted. For example, the San Gabriel River Freeway evolved into "the 605 Freeway" and then shortened to "the 605".[18]

Named interchanges

Other named features

Comparisons and firsts

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.[19]

Limited-access roads not maintained by the state

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

List of freeways

Major freeways leading into and out of Southern California

San Diego area

Controlled access routes not maintained by the state

Inland Empire Metropolitan Area

(Includes San Bernardino and Riverside Counties)

Greater Los Angeles

(includes Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura Counties)


  1. ^ "California Highways: Telling a Story through Highway and Planning Maps: Southern California Freeway Development (Part 1 - 1940s)". 1936-07-13. Retrieved 2022-07-26.
  2. ^ "Motorways Plan Revealed: System of Roads Designed to Cure Traffic Ills," Los Angeles Times, June 15, 1938
  3. ^ Hall, Peter Cities in Civilization: Culture, Technology, and Urban Order, London, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1998; New York, Pantheon Books, 1998 See section on Los Angeles
  4. ^ "The Crazy $700 Billion Plan To Fix SoCal Traffic: Tunnels!". LAist. 2015-11-18. Retrieved 2021-04-28.
  5. ^ "Plans for Irvine-Corona tunnel shelved". Orange County Register. 2010-08-27. Retrieved 2021-04-28.
  6. ^ "Schedule",, archived from the original on October 10, 2012
  7. ^ Fagin, Daniel (May 7, 2016). "Routes 209-216". California Highways.
  8. ^ "Schedule",
  9. ^ "Schedule",
  10. ^ "Editorial: Caltrans Officially Kills 710 Extension Project After Decades Of Debate". CBS Los Angeles. 2018-11-28. Retrieved 2021-06-18.
  11. ^ "Schedule".
  12. ^ "Schedule",
  13. ^ "Schedule",
  14. ^ "Schedule",
  15. ^ Sahagun, Louis (February 10, 2018). "L.A. County set to build its first new freeway in 25 years, despite many misgivings". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 31, 2018.
  16. ^ "Editorial: It was a terrible idea to build a new freeway in Los Angeles County. Now it's on hold for good". Los Angeles Times. 2019-10-06. Retrieved 2019-10-17.
  17. ^ "Private Toll Highway Linking California 126 With 118 Is Proposed : Transportation: The road, which would ease traffic in Simi Valley, is one of eight proposals Caltrans has received. Up to four will be selected by Sept. 14". Los Angeles Times. 1990-08-02. Retrieved 2021-06-17.
  18. ^ a b Geyer, Grant (Summer 2001). "'The' Freeway in Southern California". American Speech. 76 (2): 221–224. doi:10.1215/00031283-76-2-221. S2CID 144010897.
  19. ^

Further reading

  • Brodsly, David (1981). L.A. Freeway, an Appreciative Essay. University of California Press. ISBN 9780520040687.
  • Carney, Steve. "From Superhighways To Sigalerts: Freeways Have Become Part Of Southland's Identity." Los Angeles Daily News, September 21, 1999, p. N4.
  • Hise, Greg (1999). Magnetic Los Angeles: Planning the Twentieth-Century Metropolis. Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-6255-8.
  • Schrank and T. Lomax, The Urban Mobility Report 2007. Texas Transportation Institute.
  • 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.

External links