Photos from the Vault

Highway 101 became safer in the ’60s — by eliminating ‘dangerous’ intersections

A photo shows Highway 101 in San Luis Obispo circa the early 1960s.
A photo shows Highway 101 in San Luis Obispo circa the early 1960s.

A quick way to start a heated conversation is to bring up the topic of highway improvements.

Unlike water and sewer pipes, which are hidden underground, a highway represents public tax dollars and engineering on display right in front of the windshield.

When highways work as planned, they are unmemorable. When we do remember them, it is often because of trouble — from inconvenient waiting in traffic to the tragic aftermath of collisions.

The 1950s and ’60s were a time of rapid roadway improvements, as a Telegram-Tribune story from 1962 shows.

Grade crossings on the expressway were being eliminated along Highway 101 from Paso Robles to just north of Pismo Beach.

Much of the highway has been upgraded to freeway status. However, there are still dangerous vestiges of the expressway.

Grade crossings at Wellsona Road and El Campo Road have contributed to fatal collisions.

According to the Urban Institute, highway spending nationwide has fallen from fourth to sixth position in state and local spending allocations over the last few decades. Education, public welfare, health, police and corrections all place ahead of highways.

The Urban Institute says California has one of the lower per capita spending rates. States with higher spending devote almost half their highway budgets on snow plowing.

The Telegram-Tribune published this unbylined story about highway improvements on Dec. 29, 1962.

More Ahead in 1963

Highway Improvements for County

Construction and improvement of state highways in San Luis Obispo County proceeded at a significant rate during the past year according to the division of highways.

On U.S. 101 major efforts were concentrated on converting four-lane divided expressways to full freeways by eliminating several grade crossings. First to be completed during the year was the Los Osos road interchange, two miles south of San Luis Obispo, at a cost of approximately $103,000.

Aerial view of Highway 101 dated April 1962. Los Osos Valley Road overcrossing is under construction. The connection to Los Osos Valley Road would be decades in the future, the sewer plant and Madonna Plaza had not been built. Telegram-Tribune

Construction of the Madonna Road interchange at the southern city limits of San Luis Obispo is approximately 60 percent complete and should be open to traffic in April 1963. Completion of this $780,000 project will eliminate a long recognized dangerous traffic intersection.

Construction of diamond-type interchanges at Curbaril and Santa Barbara avenues in the southern part of Atascadero was recently completed at a cost of approximately $685,00 and more interchanges are planned in the near future to eliminate dangerous grade crossings of U.S. 101 between Atascadero and Paso Robles.

Also during the next calendar year construction should get underway on conversion of expressway to freeway from just north of Pismo Beach to the Los Osos interchange. Included in this eight-mile section of highway will be interchanges at Shell Beach and Avila road. Nearly $5,000,000 will be required to complete this major expressway conversion work.

On state sign route 1 completion of 12 miles of improved two-lane highway between Cayucos and Cambria, built to modern standards, eliminated another dangerous highway that had been subjected to increasingly heavy traffic particularly by tourists to this scenic area. Approximately $1,800,000 was required to finance this project.

Recently construction began on a two-lane relocation of state sign route 1 to bypass the town of Cambria to the south. The project begins 1.5 miles south and ends 1/2 mile south of San Simeon Creek north of Cambria. Completion of this $1,300,000 project is expected in September 1963.

Buena Vista Avenue over-crossing in San Luis Obispo, under construction for Highway 101 as the freeway was being built. This undated photo is from the late 1950s. Telegram-Tribune

Construction of the 6.5 miles, $2,000,000 freeway, between Morro Bay and Cayucos, is now approximately 65 per cent complete and is expected to be open to traffic by April 1963, eliminating another significant bottleneck on this well traveled route.

Other significant project included a major improvement of 6.5 miles of the Cuyama Road, state sign route 166, at a cost of nearly $2,000,000; reconstruction of 1.8 miles of U.S. 466, Morro Bay-Atascadero highway between San Gabriel Road and U.S. 101, at a cost $252,000; and a resurfacing of 2.2 miles of U.S. 101, at a cost of$123,788.

Along with other projects designed to repair, improve or landscape state highways in this area approximately $8,500,000 was allocated for state highway construction and improvement in San Luis Obispo during this past year.

Other major projects are in advanced stages of planning and design and will be scheduled for construction as soon as funds can be allocated from the state highway budget.

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