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Former US Route 40 in Auburn

Auburn is the Placer County Seat and is located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains near the North Fork American River.  Auburn has been home to numerous historic highway designations such as the North Lincoln Highway, Victory Highway and US Route 40.  The focus of this blog is on the evolution of US Route 40 in Auburn from a surface highway into the freeway which would become Interstate 80.  The blog photo above was featured as the cover of the January/February 1948 California Highways & Public Works which shows the US Route 40 bypass of Auburn at Lincoln Way.  Below 1944 United States Geological Survey shows US 40 westbound aligned through Auburn following: Lincoln Way, Elm Avenue, High Street, Lincoln Way and Ophir Road. 


Part 1; the history of US Route 40 in Auburn

As noted in the introduction Auburn is the Placer County Seat.  Following the conclusion of the Mexican American War during May 1848 French Miners located gold in what is now Auburn Ravine on the way to Sutter's Mill in Coloma.  The French Miners decided to stay near their placer mining claims and established a mining camp.  The mining camp soon grew into a small community christened as "Auburn" during August 1849 in honor of Auburn, New York.  California would become an American State during September 1850 and Auburn would play a key role as a major population center during the California Gold Rush.   Auburn was had significant enough of a presence that it was selected as the first Placer County Seat in 1851.  

Auburn lay at an opportune location to take advantage of emigrant travel over low crossing of the Sierra Nevada Mountains via 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 Central Pacific Railroad would reach Auburn during 1865 supplementing the established DF&DLR.  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 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.  Auburn can be seen as a major population center along the Central Pacific Railroad. 


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).  

The 1909 First State Highway Bond Act also defined other State Highways would become components of Interstate 80 east of Sacramento.  What would become LRN 17 was defined during the 1909 First State Highway Bond Act as a highway aligned from Roseville to Nevada City.  LRN 17 between Roseville to Auburn would eventually become part of the corridor of US Route 40 (US 40) and later Interstate 80.  The original definition of LRN 3 was from Sacramento to the Oregon Line.  

The July 1914 California Highway Bulletin noted LRN 17 from Roseville-Penryn and Penryn-Auburn had been completed.  


The convergence of LRN 17 and LRN 37 in Auburn 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 Auburn.   The Lincoln Highway westbound followed Lincoln Way, a now razed at-grade rail crossing via Elm Avenue (the map displays El Dorado Street in error) and Lincoln Way. 



The June 1924 California Highways & Public Works noted LRN 17 near Wise Powerhouse on the outskirts of Auburn had been realigned.  


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 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 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 June 1932 California Highways & Public Works noted US 40/LRN 17 had been paved between Newcastle and Auburn as part of the Newcastle Tunnel project.  


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 1935 Division of Highways Map of Placer County displays where US 40/LRN 17/LRN 37 in the vicinity of Auburn.  No clear detail is shown how US 40 was aligned through Auburn.  


The 1944 United States Geological Survey shows US 40 westbound had been realigned through Auburn following: Lincoln Way, Elm Avenue, High Street, Lincoln Way and Ophir Road.  This routing of US 40 through Auburn avoided the core business district of the city which the North Lincoln Highway and Victory Highway were aligned through.  


The January/February 1946 California Highways & Public Works announced a railroad overhead contract to realign US 40/LRN 37 in Auburn. 


The July/August 1946 California Highways & Public Works noted the realignment of US 40 in Auburn was underway and included three major grade separations.  


The November/December 1946 California Highways & Public Works depicts the progress of construction of the four-lane US 40 bypass of Auburn.  The US 40 bypass of Auburn is stated to have a targeted completion during 1947.  




The September/October 1947 California Highways & Public Works notes the US 40 bypass of Auburn was anticipated to be opened during October 1947.  The US 40 bypass of Auburn is described as being 2.6 miles in length and a divided four-lanes.  






The January/February 1948 California Highways & Public Works features the new US 40 bypass in Auburn.  


The March/April 1949 California Highways & Public Works announced construction of 6.1 miles of four-lane divided highway on US 40/LRN 37 east of Auburn to Applegate remained open for bid.  


The July/August 1949 California Highways & Public Works notes the Auburn Freeway bypass was opened as a realignment of US 40 during November 1947.  The article details the extension of the Auburn Freeway to Applegate which was bid upon during April 1949.  The Auburn-Applegate corridor is stated to be in the process of construction.  




The September 1950 California Highways & Public Works features an aerial of US 40 in Auburn. 


The new freeway alignment of US 40 between Auburn and Applegate is featured in the March/April 1951 California Highways & Public Works.  



The July/August 1955 California Highways & Public Works describes a recommended freeway realignment of US 40/LRN 17 between Roseville and Newcastle.  The proposed freeway corridor between Roseville and Newcastle is stated to be considered by the CHC during August 1955.  Construction of a new freeway grade along US 40/LRN 37 from Applegate 2.7 miles east to Heather Glen.  A new freeway grade of US 40/LRN 17 between Newcastle and Auburn is stated to have a budgeted allocation for the 1955-56 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 are 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 US 40 in California.  The Elvas Freeway, Ben Ali-Roseville Freeway and US 40 east of Roseville were ultimately selected to be incorporated into the alignment of Intestate 80. 

The September/October 1956 California Highways & Public Works features a progress report on US 40 east of Roseville.  The Newcastle-Auburn expressway segment of US 40/LRN 17 is stated to be under construction and the Roseville-Newcastle freeway is stated to be in design stages.  The new four-lane alignment of US 40/LRN 37 between Applegate and Heather Glen is stated to be complete.  Freeway alignments of US 40 around Emigrant Gap and Donner Pass are stated to be under study.  




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.  







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.  




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.  It was likely the US 40 signage in Auburn was removed when first most convenient by the Division of Highways in favor of I-80.







Part 2; former US Route 40 through downtown Auburn

As noted in Part 1 US 40 originally transitioned from Lincoln Way over the Southern Pacific Railroad over Elm Avenue.  From modern California State Route 49 northbound traffic is forced to cross under the Southern Pacific Railroad from Lincoln way via El Dorado Street.  


Since 2009 California State Route 49 northbound continues over High Street and Elm Avenue to Interstate 80.  Prior to 2009 California State Route 49 northbound followed the later surface alignment of US 40 through downtown Auburn via High Street to Grass Valley Highway.  

Below the early alignment of US 40, North Lincoln Highway and Victory Highway on Lincoln Way between Elm Avenue and High Street through downtown Auburn can be seen.  



Lincoln Way west of downtown Auburn is signed as Historic US 40. 





Part 3; former US Route 40 on modern Interstate 80 through Auburn

As noted in Part 1 the later alignment of US 40 in Auburn was fully concurrent with Interstate 80.  Interstate 80 eastbound passes under the Piggy Back Bridge and accesses Maple Street at Exit 119A in Auburn.  Exit 119B in Auburn accesses California State Route 49 north towards Grass Valley whereas Exit 119C accesses California State Route 49 south towards Placerville.









Interstate 80 eastbound Exit 120 accesses Lincoln Way whereas Exit 121 accesses Forest Hill Road. 



Interstate 80 eastbound Exit 122 accesses Bowman departing Auburn.


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