California State Route 261 is a 6.2-mile tolled limited access freeway located in Orange County. California State Route 261 begins at Walnut Avenue in the City of Irvine and follows a northward course to California State Route 241. California State Route 261 is part of the Eastern Transportation Corridor.
Part 1; the history of California State Route 261
The original California State Route 261 (CA 261) was defined by 1965 Legislative Chapters 1372 and 1397. The original definition of CA 261 was "Route 101 near Longvale to Route 5 near Willows via the vicinity of Covelo and Mendocino Pass. The original CA 261 appears on the 1966 Division of Highways Map as a planned highway over Mendocino Pass.
Part of the justification for the creation of the original CA 261 can be inferred in the January/February 1965 California Highways & Public Works. Existing Covelo Road at the Eel River is shown to have been heavily damaged by the 1964 Christmas Floods. Covelo Road is the primary access point to Round Valley Indian Reservation.
The duplicate definition of CA 261 was deleted via 1967 Legislative Chapter 235. The original CA 261 can be seen constructed to State Standards east of US Route 101 to the Eel River in Dos Rios and west from Intestate 5 to Elk Creek on the 1969 Division of Highways Map.
1972 Legislative Chapter 1216 transferred the original CA 261 to CA 162. An extended CA 162 can be seen for the first time on the 1975 Caltrans Map. CA 162 is shown built to State Standards east from Dos Rios through Covelo to the boundary of Mendocino National Forest. CA 162 would never be built to State Standards through Mendocino National Forest over Mendocino Pass but the through route exists as National Forest Route 7 on Mendocino Pass Road.
During 1986 the Transportation Corridors Agencies (TCA) of Orange County were created. Corridors governed by the TCA included: the Eastern Transportation Corridor, Foothill Transportation Corridor and San Joaquin Hills Transportation Corridor. 1987 Legislative Chapter 1413 allowed for transportation corridors to be constructed by way of toll funds.
The Eastern Transportation Corridor was assigned as CA 231 by way of 1988 Legislative Chapter 1364. As originally defined CA 231 was plotted between "Route 5 near the border of the Cities of Tustin and Irvine to Route 91." The planned corridor of the third CA 231 appears on the 1990 Caltrans Map.
Part 2; a drive on California State Route 261
Notably Interstate 5 and CA 261 do not intersect. Interstate 5 traffic is directed to take an Exit onto Jamboree Road to access CA 261.