This past November I took a day trip out to the Carquinez Straights to explore the original alignment of US Route 40 over the Martinez-Benicia Ferry and Carquinez Scenic Drive.
Part 1; the history of road bound travel over the Carquinez Straights
The Martinez-Benicia Ferry began operation in 1847 and is the second oldest ferry in the San Francisco Bay Area. The Martinez-Benicia Ferry shuttled traffic across the Carquinez Strait long before a bridge was present in the area. The Martinez-Benicia Ferry was founded by Dr. Robert Semple and was taken over by Oliver Coffin (interesting last name) who built the Ferry Street Wharf in 1850. The Martinez-Benicia Ferry can be observed even vintage maps such as the 1857 Britton & Rey's Road Map of California.
By 1915 a steam ferry known as the City of Seattle was the first to carry automotive traffic across the Carquinez Strait. Access to the Martinez-Benicia Ferry was by way of Legislative Route 14 and Legislative Route 7. LRN 14 was originally defined as part of the 1909 First State Highway Bond Act according CAhighways. LRN 14 was routed into Martinez via what is now Carquinez Scenic Drive east of Crockett. Carquinez Scenic Drive as a State Highway was completed by 1912. Likewise LRN 7 between Tehama Junction and Benicia was also established as part of the 1909 First State Highway Bond Act according to CAhighways. LRN 7 entered Benicia via 2nd Street. LRN 14 and LRN 7 can be seen meeting at the Carquinez Strait at the Martinez-Benicia Ferry on the 1918 Division of Highways Map.
In late 1926 the US Route System was created. The initial routing of US Route 40 was aligned over LRN 7 into Benicia, over the Martinez-Benicia Ferry and LRN 14 towards Oakland. US 40 can be seen aligned over the Martinez-Benicia Ferry on the 1930 Automobile Club of Southern California.
Below City of Seattle carrying US 40 traffic over the route of the Martinez-Benicia Ferry can be seen in 1930.
The primary driver of US 40 being routed away from Benicia and Martinez was the completion of the original Carquinez Bridge in 1927. The Carquinez Bridge originally carried the final alignment of the Lincoln Highway when it opened as a private toll bridge. In 1929 the Martinez-Benicia Ferry was acquired by the American Toll Bridge Company which also operated the Carquinez Bridge. According to CAhighways a spur route of LRN 7 was adopted from LRN 14 in Crockett through the American Canyon Route in 1931. US 40 was reported rerouted through Vallejo (LRN 74) via the Carquinez Bridge and the American Canyon Route (LRN 8) on the 8th Biannual Report by the Division of Highways in November 1932.
The American Canyon Cutoff of LRN 7 opened on November 10, 1936, as the new alignment US 40 from Cordelia bypassing downtown Vallejo directly to the Carquinez Bridge. The opening of the American Canyon Cutoff was featured in the November 1936 California Highways & Public Works.
The Martinez-Benicia Ferry remained in operation after US 40 was moved to the Carquinez Bridge and became part of California State Route 21 which occurred likely by 1935. In 1940 the legislature approved for Department of Public Works to formally request that control of the Martinez-Benicia Ferry be transferred by the American Toll Bridge company to the cities of Martinez and Benicia. The legislative process for transferring the Martinez-Benicia Ferry is discussed in the December 1940 California Highway and Public Works Guide. The photo in said California Highway and Public Works Guide is of the ferry landing in Martinez.
The Martinez-Benicia Ferry was transferred to the City of Martinez on January 1st of 1941. Interestingly the City of Benicia withdrew from becoming an owner of the Martinez-Benicia Ferry which left it under sole ownership of the City of Martinez. The new ownership of the Martinez-Benicia Ferry is discussed in the January 1941 California Highway and Public Works Guide.
LRN 14 west of Martinez on Carquinez Scenic Drive remained part of the State Highway System as an unsigned highway until 1953. In 1953 LRN 14 was truncated from Martinez to Crockett according to CAhighways.org. 1953 was also saw the definition of LRN 75 changed to include the Martinez-Benicia Ferry under state ownership. CA 21 continued to utilize the Martinez-Benicia Ferry until September 15, 1962 when it was replaced by highway bridge which now carries the southbound lanes of I-680.
The opening the Benicia-Martinez Highway Bridge and closure of the Martinez-Benicia Ferry are covered in the September/October 1962 California Highway and Public Works Guide. The "Last Ferry" article goes into extensive detail regarding the history of the Martinez-Benicia Ferry in addition to the Central Pacific Railroad Ferry between Benicia to Port Costa.
Part 2; a drive and hike on former US 40 between Benicia and Crockett
Although ferry service between Benicia and Martinez is no longer available I sought out to attempt to replicate the original alignment of US 40. While the surface routing of US 40 between Benicia and Crockett is intact it does require a bit of hiking on an eroded Carquinez Scenic Drive. My path of travel between Benicia and Crockett is best illustrated by zooming in on the 1930 ACSC Map.
Part 2.1; former US Route 40 in Benicia
Former US 40 on LRN 7 westbound entered Benicia on what is now; Park Road, McKinney Place and Hillcrest Avenue where it swung south on 5th Street. US 40 followed 5th Street all the way to the shores of the Carquinez Strait where it boarded the Benicia-Martinez Ferry. LRN 7 through Benicia can be seen in detail on the 1935 Division of Highways Map of Solano County when it was part of CA 21.
My approach to former US 40 on 5th Street was from I-780 westbound.
I drove south on 5th Street on what was US 40 westbound towards the Martinez-Benicia Ferry landing. I parked at E Street and walked the remainder of 5th Street to the Martinez-Benicia Ferry landing.
US 40 would have crossed the tracks of the Southern Pacific Railroad as the latter was approaching it's ferry landing towards Port Costa. The grade of the Southern Pacific Railroad is obvious looking both east towards the Benicia-Martinez Bridges and west towards 1st Street.
Continuing towards the landing of the Martinez-Benicia Ferry there isn't any indication of the historic route of travel which once was located there. The Martinez-Benicia Ferry is presently occupied by Bay Area Ship Services and is on private property.
The landing of the Martinez-Benicia Ferry can be viewed by following the grade of the Southern Pacific Railroad west through Turnbull Park.
Part 2.2; a side trip to the Central Pacific Railroad ferry landing in Benicia
Since I was in Benicia I decided to a make a side trip towards the Central Pacific Railroad Ferry landing at Pointe Benicia which is at the end of 1st Street. The Central Pacific Railroad Ferry between Benicia and Port Costa opened when the rail ferry ship Solano began operation in 1879. The Central Pacific Line to Benicia had been built during the late 1870s and can be seen as an planned route on this 1874 Gray's Atlas Railroad Map of Oregon, California and Nevada.
The rails had reached 1st Street in Benicia by 1878 as shown on this Thompson & West Map of Benicia. Interestingly the Martinez-Benicia Ferry is shown landing at 1st Street in Benicia.
By 1885 the Central Pacific Railroad leased it's lines to the Southern Pacific Railroad before it became a non-operating subsidiary of the latter. In 1914 the Southern Pacific launched the ferry ship Contra Costa. Both the Solano and Contra Costa operated on the ferry between Benicia to Port Costa until 1930 when the Benicia-Martinez Railroad Bridge opened. The last voyage of the rail ferry from Benicia to Port Costa via the Solano can be seen seen this photo below.
The Solano was launched in 1878 and was 425 feet in length. The Solano was a steamship which was propelled by sidewheel paddles. The Solano was capable of carrying as many as 48 rail cars and was the largest rail ferry before the Contra Costa was built. The Solano was scuttled in 1931 to create breakwater at the mouth of the Old San Joaquin River (Old River) near Antioch. Numerous vintage photos of the Solano, the ferry landing in Benicia and the ferry landing in Port Costa can be found at the Central Pacific Railroad Museum website.
Conversely the Contra Costa was similar in specification to the Solano but was 433 feet in length. The photo of the Contra Costa below is dated to 1920.
Today the railroad ferry landing in Benicia is easy to find at Pointe Benicia due to the presence of Benicia Depot. Benicia Depot was originally built in Banta in 1879 and was relocated to Benicia in 1902. The Benicia Depot remained in operation until 1958 when it was shuttered by the Southern Pacific. Benicia Depot was eventually restored and reopened in 2002. Despite the railroad ferry being long gone the rail grade is obvious in front of Benicia Depot.
The dual slips of the Central Pacific Railroad ferry landing can be found at the tip of Pointe Benicia. Both slips point almost directly westward over the Carquinez Strait towards Port Costa.
From certain vantage points at Point Benicia a full view of the 1958 and 2007 Carquinez Bridges can be viewed to the west.
Note; on a historic footnote Benicia was once the Third State Capitol of the State of California. Benicia served as the State Capitol between February of 1853 to February of 1854. The capitol was apparently moved to Sacramento due to "bad weather," a "lack of comfortable sleeping quarters" and that the state records could not be adequately secured. Amusingly Benicia lost the Solano County Seat Fairfield in 1858, in that sense ferries more or less kept it on the map.
Part 2.3; former US 40 in Martinez
An astute observer can see the grade of Carquinez Scenic Drive looking west from Ferry Point towards the Diablo Range.
From Ferry Point US 40 would have followed LRN 14 through Martinez via what is now; Court Street, Joe Dimaggio Drive, Ferry Street, Escobar Street and Talbart Street to Carquinez Scenic Drive. The path of LRN 14 through Martinez to Carquinez Scenic Drive can be seen on the 1935 California Division of Highways Map.
I followed former US 40 via Court Street and Joe Dimaggio Drive to Ferry Street. Former US 40 at the intersection of Ferry Street and Joe Dimaggio Drive has a rail road display of a Southern Pacific Steam Locomotive and numerous ATSF rail cars. A small historical plaque regarding the Martinez-Benicia Ferry can be found within view of the 1876 Central Pacific Railroad Depot. Suffice to say the 2000s era Amtrak platform is somewhat out of character in such a historic rail corridor.
US 40 westbound followed Ferry Street south and made a right turn onto Escobar Street.
US 40 westbound followed westbound Escobar Street to Talbart Street where it made a right hand turn.
US 40 westbound followed Talbart Street northward to a westbound curve onto Carquinez Scenic Drive. Traffic headed towards Carquinez Scenic Drive is advised it is closed to traffic 2.2 miles to the west.
Part 2.4; former US 40 on Carquinez Scenic Drive from Martinez west to Port Costa
Carquinez Scenic Drive is very similar to other early era US Route alignments such as; US 99 on the Old Ridge Route, US 101 on the San Juan Grade and US 60/70 on Jackrabbit Trail. Carquinez Scenic Drive from Martinez most of the way west towards Port Costa is aligned directly on the cliffs above the Carquinez Strait through Carquinez Straight Regional Shoreline. This alignment makes for a narrow roadway but also makes for a very "scenic" route with numerous vistas of; Martinez, Benicia and the Benicia-Martinez Bridges. In the last photo below the route of the Martinez-Benicia Ferry can be seen from Carquinez Scenic Drive.
Former US 40 on Carquinez Scenic Drive continues west as a roadway to a gate where it become the George Miller Trail above the former rail siding of Ozol. The George Miller Regional Trail is a 1.7 mile segment of former US 40 on Carquinez Scenic Drive which was washed out in the 1980s. The George Miller Regional Trail opened as a multi-use facility in 2014. Sadly there is no historical plaques that denote the George Miller Trail as part of early US 40.
Former US 40 on George Miller Regional Trail/Carquinez Scenic Drive continues 1.7 miles westward to the ruins of Nevada Dock. Almost all of George Miller Regional Trail has a vista of the Carquinez Strait somewhere nearby. The views of the railroad grade below really illustrate how much of a superior route the rails once had in the Carquinez Strait. Fortunately I'm a distance runner so getting to Nevada Dock and back to my car wasn't much an issue.
From the western end of the George Miller Regional Trail the path of former US 40 on Carquinez Scenic Drive resumes being an active roadway. Approximately a mile west of the George Miller Regional Trail the route of Carquinez Scenic Drive intersects Reservoir Street and McEwen Road.
Former US 40 on Carquinez Scenic Drive continues west and intersects Canyon Lake Drive which is the main street of Port Costa.
Part 2.5; a side trip to Port Costa and the ruins of Central Pacific Railroad Ferry
From Carquinez Scenic Drive I made a right hand turn on Canyon Lake Drive towards downtown Port Costa. At the intersection of Canyon Lake Drive and Reservoir Street the 1911 Port Costa School can be found. The Port Costa School was closed in 1966 and has been gradually restored in the following decades.
Canyon Lake Road ends in downtown Port Costa at once was the Central Pacific Railroad freight yard. Port Costa was founded in 1879 specifically to be the ferry landing for the Central Pacific Railroad. Interestingly despite no longer having the intended purpose of being a ferry landing and rail siding Port Costa has managed to survive largely intact rather than declining to a ghost town.
There are few remains of the Central Pacific Railroad ferry landing. What can be seen exists beyond the current Union Pacific Railroad tracks on the waters of the Carquinez Strait. The Central Pacific Railroad ferry landing once extended into the waters of the Carquinez Strait so the Solano and Contra Costa could load/unload.
The Port Costa Warehouse dates to 1886 and was the first fireproof building in Contra Costa County. The Port Costa Warehouse was built with the purpose of storing wheat, hay and potatoes. Today the Post Costa Warehouse now houses the Warehouse Cafe and community Post Office.
The striking looking yellow building in Port Costa is the 1883 Burlington Hotel. The Burlington Hotel is often cited to be a former a brothel but the historic plaque on the building exterior disputes this notion. The Burlington Hotel is still open and reportedly doesn't take kindly to those who would feature it on "Ghost Hunter" type media.
Other notable buildings in Port Costa include the Theater of Dreams and Hat Shop.
Part 2.6; former US 40 from Port Costa to the Carquinez Bridges in Crockett
After visiting Port Costa I continued west on former US 40 on Carquinez Scenic Drive towards Crockett.
Carquinez Scenic Drive continues west and intersects the Bull Valley Staging Area which can be used to access Eckley Pier. Eckley Pier is located on the waters of the Carquinez Strait and is within what the former railroad siding of Eckley.
I continued west on Carquinez Scenic Drive and stopped where the Carquinez Bridges can be viewed. Interestingly I spotted a discarded (probably stolen and scraped for parts) motorcycle above the ghost town of Eckley. The wreckage of the ship known as the Garden City apparently can be seen below Carquinez Scenic Drive.
Former US 40 on Carquinez Scenic Drive continues west into Crockett where it becomes Pomona Street.
Crockett is named for a California Supreme Court Judge by the name of Joseph Crockett who was a land owner in the area the community now stands. Crockett began to be settled in the late 1860s and grew into a town. Crockett received Post Office Service in 1883 as "Crockettville" which was simplified a year later. Crockett is traditionally be known as the home of the California and Hawaiian Sugar Company which operated in the community between 1906 until 2017.
Former US 40 originally followed Ponoma Street west through downtown Crockett beyond the Carquinez Bridge to San Pablo Avenue. The originally alignment of US 40 followed San Pablo which was also part of LRN 14 all the way into downtown Oakland. US 40 originally met the Lincoln Highway as it exited the west approach of the 1927 Carquinez Bridge near what is now the on ramp/off ramp for I-80 southbound today.
For illustrative purposes the original alignment of US 40/LRN 14 on San Pablo Avenue between Crockett west to Oakland can be viewed on the 1930 ACSC map below.
West of I-80 the 1958 and 2003 Carquinez Bridges can be viewed from a vista on former US 40 on San Pablo Avenue. The 1958 Carquinez Bridge carries I-80 eastbound and is a 3,300 foot long cantilever design. The 2003 Carquinez Bridge carries I-80 westbound and replaced the 1927 structure. The 2003 Carquinez Bridge is a 3,465 foot long suspension span. The 1958 Carquinez Bridge has a 140 foot clearance above the Carquinez Strait whereas the 2003 span has a 148 foot clearance.
The 1927 Carquinez Bridge was a cantilever design that resembles the 1958 Bridge. The 1927 Carqueinz Bridge ultimately became part of I-80 westbound but was determined to be seismically unstable following the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake. Upon the completion of the 2003 Carquinez Bridge the 1927 structure was demolished. Construction of the 1927 Carquinez Bridge began in 1923 and can be seen in an unfinished state below.
The 1927 Carquinez Bridge can be seen wedged between the 2003 and 1958 Bridges in this stock photo from 2006.
Thank you very very very much for answering many questions I have had about this subject for decades. I lived in San Pablo as a young man & spent much time on the straits & Martinez & Benicia.
We used to drive to Martinez on the Carquinez Scenic drive for fun. Just a couple of years ago Me & the missus drove it in 2 sections.
YOUR NEXT CHALLENGE-->
Trace the old redwood highway, much of which still is driveable up north to the Oregon state line.
ALSO, the old pre 101 road out of Crescent City to Brookings Oregon across the Smith & Chetco rivers.