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Former US Route 40 in Colfax


Colfax is a city located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of Placer County, California which was on the alignment of US Route 40.  Early US Route 40 within Colfax inherited the alignments of the North Lincoln Highway and Victory Highway upon the US Route System being created during November 1926.  Eastbound US Route 40 crossed through Colfax via Auburn Street, Grass Valley Street and Main Street.  Above early US Route 40 can be seen crossing the First Transcontinental Railroad via Grass Valley Street as seen in the May 1939 California Highways & Public Works.  Below a map of early US Route 40 in Colfax can be seen as displayed in the May 1939 California Highways & Public Works.  




Part 1; The history of US Route in Colfax

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.  Colfax was founded as a siding of the Central Pacific Railroad and was located on the DF&DLR.  Colfax is named in honor of Speaker of the House Schuler Colfax who visited the community during 1865.  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.

Dutch Flat and Donner Lake Toll Road on cprr.org

Below Colfax can be seen along Central Pacific Railroad 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.  


The emergence of the automobile in the early 20th Century led to the 1909 First State Highway Bond Act which was approved by voters during 1910.  The majority of the highways approved as part of the First State Highway Bond Act were largely well-established routes of travel which included much of the DF&DLR.  According to CAhighways.org the DF&DLR was adopted as part of the Emigrant Gap State Road under Legislative Chapter 224 with the following description:

"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..."

In time the Legislative description of the DL&DLR would become part of Legislative Route Number 37 (LRN 37).  

Notably Colfax would incorporate as a city on February 23rd, 1910.  

LRN 37 in Colfax can be seen along the Nothern Lincoln Highway and Victory Highway on the 1920 Clason Roads of California and Nevada Map.  


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 in Colfax following Auburn Street, Grass Valley Street and Main Street. 


The August 1924 California Highways & Public Works noted LRN 37 between Colfax-Gold Run and LRN 38 between Truckee-Boca were in the process being graded.  


The May 1925 California Highways & Public Works stated an oil macadam surface was to be applied to LRN 37 the segment between Auburn-Colfax.  


The June 1925 California Highways & Public Works noted surveys were underway to find the final location of LRN 38 within Truckee.  The grading of LRN 37 in the Colfax-Gold Run corridor is stated to have been recently completed.  


The July 1925 California Highways & Public Works noted paving operations were about to begin on LRN 37 in the Auburn-Colfax corridor.  


The September 1925 California Highways & Public Works referenced paving operations as being nearly completed in the Auburn-Colfax corridor of LRN 37.  


The initial draft of the US Route System was approved by the Secretary of Agriculture during November of 1925.  The US Route System within California was approved by California Highway Commission ("CHC") with no changes recommended by January 1926.  The alignment of US Route 40 (US 40) east of Sacramento was planned to follow the existing Northern Branch of the Lincoln Highway and Victory Highway over LRN 3, LRN 17, LRN 37 and LRN 38 to the Nevada State Line at Verdi. 


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 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.  


A trip on US 40/LRN 37 between Colfax to Truckee by the Auburn Journal Republic is described in the January 1932 California Highways & Public Works.  


1933 was significant due to the State Legislature allowing the Division of Highways to assume maintenance of highways in Cities for the first time.  This action by the Legislature led to a large addition of highway mileage throughout the State of California during 1933.  The previous locally maintained segments of US 40 within cities were assumed under the maintenance of the Division of Highways. 

The May 1939 California Highways & Public Works features the construction of the new US 40/LRN 37 bypass route of Colfax.  The new alignment of US 40/LRN 37 in Colfax is stated to include a rail overpass and was anticipated to be complete sometime during June 1939.  




The December 1939 California Highways & Public Works features the completed realignment of US 40/LRN 37 in Colfax.  The realignment of Colfax and rail overhead structure are stated to have opened during July 1939.  



The November/December 1955 California Highways & Public Works announced an expressway realignment of US 40/LRN 37 from Heather Glen to Colfax and Colfax to Gold Run was budgeted for the 1956-57 Fiscal Year. 


The May/June 1956 California Highways & Public Works announced the opening of the Ben Ali-Roseville Freeway as the new alignment US 99E/US 40/LRN 3 on April 24th, 1956.  US 99E was rerouted from the end of the Elvas Freeway along the Ben Ali-Roseville Freeway to the Riverside Avenue Exit.  The Newcastle-Auburn freeway, Heather Glen-Colfax expressway, Colfax-Magra expressway and Floriston- Nevada State Line expressway all is described as being budgeted for future realignments of US 40.  




On June 29th, 1956, the Federal Highway Aid Act of 1956 was signed into law on the Federal Level.  The Federal Highway Aid Act of 1956 was the genesis point of the Interstate Highway System which would in the coming decade sew the demise via of US 40 in California.  The Elvas Freeway, Ben Ali-Roseville Freeway and US 40 east of Roseville via Colfax were ultimately selected to be incorporated into the alignment of Intestate 80. 

The November/December 1957 California Highways & Public Works features numerous updates to US 40 in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  US 40/LRN 17 in the Newcastle-Auburn corridor is stated to be 75% complete.  US 40/LRN 37 in the Heather Glen-Colfax corridor is stated to be in the process of grading.  The US 40/LRN 37 freeway in the Colfax-Magra corridor as well as Truckee-Nevada State Line.  






An additional article in the November/December 1957 California Highways & Public Works states US 40/LRN 37 freeway bypasses Emigrant Gap and Donner Pass were adopted.  All active projects east of Roseville are stated to have anticipated completion dates during late 1959 in anticipation of the 1960 Squaw Valley Winter Olympics.  The article notes US 40 in the Sierra Nevada Mountains to be part of the Interstate Highway System.  


The July/August 1958 California Highways & Public Works notes the US 40/LRN 17 freeway in the Newcastle-Auburn corridor was slated to open during the summer of 1958.  The Heather Glen-Colfax freeway corridor of US 40/LRN 37 is stated to have an anticipated opening during summer 1958.  The Colfax-Magra freeway corridor of US 40/LRN 37 is stated to have an anticipated opening during fall 1958.  The Boca-Stateline freeway corridor of US 40/LRN 38 is stated to have an anticipated opening during summer 1958.  


Freeway construction of US 40/LRN 37 near Magra is shown in the July/August 1959 California Highways & Public Works.  


The July/August 1959 California Highways & Public Works notes the Roseville-Newcastle freeway alignment of US 40/LRN 17 was anticipated to open on December 1st, 1959.  The Auburn-Heather Glen expressway corridor of US 40/LRN 37 is stated to be in the early stages of a freeway agreement with Placer County.  The US 40/LRN 37 Heather Glen-Magra freeway corridor is stated to have been completed during 1958.  The Baxter-Emigrant Gap freeway corridor of US 40/LRN 37 is stated to be under contract.  The Hampshire Rocks-Soda Springs freeway corridor of US 40/LRN 37 is stated to have an anticipated opening during November 1959.  The Donner Lake-Boca freeway corridor of US 40 is stated to have an anticipated opening during November 1959 and would bypass Truckee.  Upon being bypassed what was US 40 in Colfax via the 1939 Southern Pacific Railroad Overhead was spun off into LRN 25.  




The January/February 1962 California Highways & Public Works provides an update on the freeway conversion of US 40 (now noted also as Interstate 80) in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  The article notes US 40/Interstate 80 was aligned on 72 miles of continuous freeway/expressway from Sacramento to Emigrant Gap at the time of publishing.  Numerous construction photos of the new alignment of US 40/Interstate 80/LRN 37 over Donner Summit are shown.  The Emigrant-Hampshire Rocks corridor of US 40/Interstate 80/LRN 37 is stated to have an anticipated completion during 1963.  





The November/December 1962 California Highways & Public Works notes several updates to US 40/Interstate 80/LRN 37.  The 5.4-mile segment of freeway east of Emigrant Gap is stated to have planned opening by Fall 1963.  The 6.3-mile freeway segment near Cisco Grove is stated to have a planned opening during 1964.  The new 10.5-mile alignment over Donner Summit is stated to have an anticipated opening during the summer of 1963.  


The March/April 1963 California Highways & Public Works provides an update to the Emigrant Gap, Cisco Grove and Donner Summit corridors of US 40/Interstate 80/LRN 37.  The article notes US 40/Interstate 80 was expected to be completed to freeway standards over the Sierra Nevada Mountains sometime during 1964.  







The Division of Highways submitted an application for US 40 to be truncated from San Francisco to California State Route 89 in Truckee on August 26th, 1963.  In a letter to the AASHO dated September 24th, 1964, the California State Highway Engineer noted even through US 40 was approved by the Executive Committee to be truncated to Truckee signage would be retained until approximately 1967 when Interstate 80 was completed in the State.  It is unclear the exact date US 40 was officially truncated to California State Route 89 in Truckee.  Given Interstate 80 was functionally completed through Colfax it is likely US 40 signage was removed at the earlier convenient point by the Division of Highways. 





During the 1964 State Highway Renumbering all the Legislative Route Numbers were dropped in favor of field signage.  Legislative Routes Numbers without field Sign State Routes were given new numbering assignments.  In the case of LRN 25 in the Colfax-Grass Valley corridor it was assigned as part of California State Route 174.  What had been the last surface alignment of US 40 in Colfax was subsequently assumed into California State Route 174.  


Part 2; a drive on former US Route 40 in Colfax

Below former US 40 westbound on modern CA 174/Colfax Highway southbound can be observed at the Colfax City Limit.  


Below former US 40 westbound on modern CA 174/Colfax Highway southbound can be observed at the 1939 Colfax Overhead.  


Below former US 40 in Colfax is interrupted by the alignment of Interstate 80 which forces CA 174/Colfax Highway to swing towards Central Street.  CA 174 incorporates a small element of the original alignment of US 40 in Colfax on Auburn Street before terminating at Interstate 80. 





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