Interstate 80 east of the City of Sacramento ascends into the Sierra Nevada Mountains towards the Nevada State Line. Interstate 80 climbs to the 7,240 foot high Donner Summit and gradually descends into Nevada following the course of the Truckee River Canyon. Interstate 80 in the Sierra Nevada Mountains builds upon the historic corridors of; the Dutch Flat & Donner Lake Road, First Transcontinental Railroad, the Lincoln Highway, Victory Highway and US Route 40.
Part 1; the history of Interstate 80 in the Sierra Nevada Mountains
Even prior to the California Gold Rush the present corridor of Interstate 80 was well known due to the relatively low crossing of the Sierra Nevada Mountains via what now is known as Donner Pass. The first known wagon crossing of Donner Pass occurred during 1844. The infamous Donner Party saga occurred in the winter of 1846-47 during which only 48 of the 87 party members survived. Although the Donner Party incident is largely attributed to poor planning and the ill-conceived Hastings Cutoff it largely led to the infamous reputation of Donner Pass.
During 1861 the State of California granted the Central Pacific Railroad a 10-year franchise on toll rights to the Dutch Flat & Donner Lake Road (DF&DLR) which completed by 1864. The DF&DLR was used to finance the Central Pacific Railroad's construction of the First Transcontinental Railroad from 1864 to 1868. The DF&DLR was likely not tolled after the Central Pacific Railroad was completed over the Sierra Nevada Mountains during Spring of 1868. The DF&DLR became a public highway in 1871 and was only loosely maintained given rail service had become the easiest form of transportation over Donner Pass. The website below goes into far more detail about the Dutch Flat & Donner Lake Wagon Road.
In addition to the DF&DLR there was two additional wagon routes that were used near Donner Pass; Coldstream Pass and Roller Pass. Both routes were apparently in use by 1846 when the Donner Party had reached Donner Pass. This site has some excellent links to maps showing all the wagon routes alongside Donner Pass Road in addition to the rail alignments.
Donner Pass Wagon, Highway, and Railroad Routes on donsnotes.com
Below the Central Pacific Railroad can be seen on the 1873 Bancroft's Map of California, Nevada, Utah and Arizona. The DLDLWR essentially acted as a frontage road of the Central Pacific Railroad in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
"An act to make an appropriation for the location, survey and construction of a state highway from Emigrant Gap...to the west end of Donner Lake..."
"...for the location, survey, and construction of a state highway from Emigrant Gap, Placer County in an E-ly direction through what is known as the Truckee Pass (Donner Pass) to the W end of Donner Lake in Nevada County... and it shall be the duty of the department to locate, survey, and construct said road along the line of the wagon road known as the Dutch Flat and Donner Lake wagon road..."
The Victory Highway was formally organized during 1921 as a coast-to-coast highway aligned from New York to San Francisco. The Victory Highway Association lived on after the creation of the US Route System and became the US Route 40 Association in 1938.
During 1912 Indiana Businessman Carl G. Fisher conceptualized the Lincoln Highway as a major transcontinental Auto Trail. The Lincoln Highway was formally dedicated on October 31st, 1913 and was aligned west of Fallon via split branches over the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The original northern branch of the Lincoln Highway (displayed in blue) is shown on the Lincoln Highway Association's Official Map from Sacramento eastward to Verdi, Nevada.
Thusly US 40 appears on the 1925 Rand McNally Map of California east of Sacramento to Verdi, Nevada.
The January 1926 California Highways & Public Works features the recently completed LRN 37 in the corridor of Colfax-Gold Run. Interestingly the article notes LRN 37 in the Colfax-Gold Run to be part of US 40 despite the US Route System not having been finalized.
The May 1926 California Highways & Public Works announced a contract to surface LRN 37 between Colfax-Emigrant Gap had recently been awarded. LRN 38 in the Truckee River Canyon between Truckee and the Nevada State Line is stated to have been fully graded. The new segment of LRN 38 is stated to have a planned opening on June 10th, 1926 and is noted to bypass the infamous Dog Valley Grade.
The completed Donner Summit Bridge appears on the cover of the September 1926 California Highways & Public Works. The opening ceremony at the Donner Summit Bridge is depicted in the adjoining volume article.
The Donner Summit Bridge is commonly referred to as the "Rainbow Bridge." Former US 40 on Donner Pass Road from Truckee west to the Donner Summit Bridge/Rainbow Bridge is featured in the Gribblenation blog below:
The US Route System was formally approved by the American Association of State Highway Engineers on November 11th, 1926. The approval of the US Route System formally brought US 40 into existence east of Sacramento to the Nevada State Line. Notably US 40 east of Sacramento to the Nevada State Line was referred to as the Victory Highway in numerous official documents into the 1930s.
The April 1927 California Highways & Public Works announced the CHC decided to eliminate numerous railroad crossings on US 40/LRN 37 in the Auburn-Colfax corridor.
The Donner Summit Bridge as seen in November 1927 California Highways & Public Works.
The January 1928 California Highways & Public Works announced surfacing projects on US 40/LRN 37 from Cisco-Soda Springs and Donner Monument-Tahoe Junction. Six railroad separations on US 40/LRN 37 were also announced.
The May/June 1928 California Highways & Public Works announced overhead crossings on US 40/LRN 37 in Bowman and Weimar had been recently completed.
The November/December 1928 California Highways & Public Works referenced US 40/LRN 17 from Roseville to Rocklin was to the graded and surfaced.
The January/February 1929 California Highways & Public Works announced a 0.9 mile grade separation for US 40/LRN 17 in Newcastle was budgeted for the 1929-31 Fiscal Years.
US 40/LRN 37 near Donner Pass as featured in the January/February 1929 California Highways & Public Works.
The surfacing conditions on US 40 east of Auburn to the Nevada State Line as featured in the January/February 1929 California Highways & Public Works.
US 40/LRN 37 at Donner Lake as seen in the October 1929 California Highways & Public Works.
The October 1929 California Highways & Public Works announced US 40/LRN 38 was being applied with an experimental surfacing between Boca and the Nevada State Line. The surfacing project is stated to be a cooperative between the Division of Highways and Bureau of Public Roads.
The December 1929 California Highways & Public Works features the recently widen segment of US 99E/US 40/LRN 3 in North Sacramento on Auburn Boulevard. The new alignment of US 99E/US 40/LRN 3 consisted of 8.7 miles of road surface expanded from 18 feet in width to 30 feet.
The May 1932 California Highways & Public Works featured the opening of the Newcastle Tunnel and realignment of US 40/LRN 17. The Newcastle Tunnel is stated to have opened to traffic on May 14th, 1932.
On November 15th, 1974 the Nevada Department of Transportation in conjunction with states of California and Utah submitted a request to truncate US Route 40 from Truckee, California to Park City, Utah. The request to truncate US 40 was approved by the AASHO Executive Committee on June 17th, 1975. The request by Nevada to remove US Route 40 seems to have been spurred by the completion of Interstate 80 through Reno. This action officially removed US 40 from the State of Nevada and the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California.
Interstate 80 eastbound begins to descend from Donner Summit. On the downhill grade an overlook of Donner Lake can be found.