October 18, 2008 —
(Caltrans photo caption):
The first highway to across a major mountain range, the original Ridge Route was officially designated a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark near Pyramid Lake, adjacent to Interstate 5.
In 1915, along the rolling hills above Interstate 5, in north Los Angeles County, a roadway still known as the original "Ridge Route" was carved out of a mountain by forward-thinking transportation pioneers. It was a two-lane, gravel, partially paved narrow and winding roadway – that lined the way for the modern roadways of today – especially and particularly the Golden State Freeway or I-5.
Last month, on October 18, through the efforts of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), the Ridge Route Preservation Organization and transportation historians, the "Ridge Route" was officially designated a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.
Dan Freeman, Deputy District Director for Maintenance, represented Caltrans at the Pyramid Lake Recreation Center to officially place the historical monument designation on the famous Ridge Route along I-5 to memorialize and celebrate the historic achievements of transportation pioneers.
The Ridge Route was initially a 53-mile portion of the first 123-mile roadway that was constructed between Los Angeles and Bakersfield, primarily by pick and shovel. The route has rich history and beauty all its own, complete with scenic views of Castaic Lake, the rolling hills of the Tehachapi Mountains and the San Joaquin Valley. It was constructed through the Tehachapis over the Tejon Pass and down the "Grapevine" grade. It was named that way because the major portion of the road was placed on the ridge of the mountains west of Castaic Creek to avoid drainage problems and reduce maintenance and earthwork. It was the very first highway to cross a major mountain range and began a physical connection, a critical link between northern and southern California. And it was "the first highway crossing of a major mountain range by the newly formed California State Department of Highways," according to the writing on the new monument.
When the Ridge Route was built, Pyramid Lake was just a river and there was no freeway. In those very early years of highway building, the area was studied by Caltrans engineers and surveyors, who made their way on foot along the Ridge Route and what is now the eight-lane I-5. According to one of Caltrans early surveyor, Dick Murphy, who recently retired, "This was a daunting challenge for California's highway engineers working for the Division of Highways back then." He and a team of engineers and surveyors walked that distance from Castaic to the Kern County line, over 30 miles one way, to map out the alignment of I-5, eventually transformed a huge mountain into a landmark in freeway surveying, planning, engineering, construction, operations and maintenance – or the famous Golden State Freeway – the backbone of the state highway system.
"They are some of the transportation heroes of the era of highway building," Freeman added. On behalf of Caltrans, Freeman publicly thanked Don Sepulveda, Warren Minner and ASCE members; Harrison Scott, President of the Ridge Route Preservation Organization; Andy Machen, P.E., Caltrans District 8; and the United States Forest Service for their efforts to preserve the rich history of this famous roadway.
Each year, through the efforts of the History and Heritage Committee, the Section dedicates a historic
landmark. These landmarks remind us of the efforts of engineers and how they have solved engineering
challenges throughout history. These dedications begin through the diligent efforts of a project champion. This
champion works with the project from the inception through
the dedication by handling all the logistics, development of
the plaque, and the ceremony
The Section, through the efforts of Warren Minner, P.E.
LM. ASCE, dedicated the Ridge Route as a significant civil
engineering landmark. The Ridge Route was the main
roadway between Southern California and the Central Valley. This route was instrumental in providing a link
between the two agricultural regions of California and was largely responsible for the economic growth of the
The committee, working under the leadership of Warren Minner, succeeded in securing a prominent permanent
location for the monument. This work included the construction of a concrete pad and landscaping. The
monument is located at the Department of Water Resources Visitor Center at Pyramid Lake and overlooks
Interstate 5, the highway that eventually replaced the Ridge Route.
The dedication was October 18, 2008 and featured folk music, refreshments and remarks from Warren Minner,
Section President Don Sepulveda, Caltrans District Director for Maintenance – Dan Freeman, and Historian
The Section is working on the dedication of a plaque honoring Marilyn Jorgenson Reese, the first licensed
woman civil engineer in California. Our History and Heritage Committee has been working on procuring
funding and a location for this dedication. The Section has provided the funding and has worked to procure a
location for the plaque. The dedication is expected to occur this fall.
The Section worked closely with the Engineers Without Borders in publicizing events through our Calendar,
emails and website so that all ASCE members are informed of mutually beneficial events.
Through the ASCE LA Section YMF, whose chair serves on the ASCE LA Section Board, numerous exhibits
and public service projects were undertaken. Section members were invited to participate in all of the events.
In some of the events, such as the Popsicle Bridge Contest discussed under Part E, the Section President Don
Sepulveda, P.E., F. ASCE was a keynote speaker. The events were well publicized, funded and supported by
the ASCE LA Section. These events provide a vital service for the membership of the Section. In addition to
the numerous outreach events that the Section YMF groups, they also work closely with our ten ASCE student
chapters to ensure that they have the tools that they need to succeed.