I’ve been accused over the years of using a bit too much hyperbole in my descriptions of backroads, but this 1958 description of the improvements of U.S. 80 through San Diego County takes the cake.

From the January-February issue of California Highways and Public Works via archive.org, comes this description of U.S. 80, credited to C. Wigginton, District Administrative Assistant:

Old man Euclid of geometry fame once casually remarked that a straight line is the shortest distance between two points. He not only qualified to be one of the front starters for a place in history as a charter member in the Mathematicians’ Union, but he laid out the ground rules for modern freeway design.

US 80, beginning in San Diego, the birthplace of California, and ending in Savannah, Georgia, aptly qualifies as a straight line highway from coast to coast, and under the impetus of the federal interstate program, is to be constructed to freeway standards from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean. Truly a tribute to Euclid and his mathematics and the highway designers of the eight states through which it passes.

Well, Mr. Wigginton, it appears you were an aspiring writer 59 years ago. Hope you made it. The great U.S. 80 disappeared in San Diego County within 10 years, with the freeway portions becoming Interstate 8. The photos here are from the 70th Street-Lake Murray Boulevard interchange in La Mesa; it’s just east of San Diego State University.

The photos document the interchange under construction (from this story); the completed photo is from a later wrap up on the region’s road construction; and a look at the spot today from Google Maps. The interchange has been heavily rebuilt over the years, but still retains much of the 1950s design and some of the pavement.

Old Highway 80 (that’s now the street name in eastern San Diego County) is one of my drives in Joyrides Around San Diego. You can pretty much see the road as it was when this story was written, as I-8 bypassed most of it east of El Cajon. It makes a perfect San Diego day trip.

To leave you, let’s go back to Mr. Wigginton’s prose…

So ends our first project report on accomplishments to date for US 80. Many miles of highway design and many headaches are in prospect before the ultimate goal at the Colorado River is reached. Studies are under way for the balance of the line, taking advantage of the newest fields of automation in order to gain valuable engineering time. Aerial photos are providing survey information previously gathered by weary surveyors, patiently plodding through the brush of the mountains and the sands of the desert. Electronic machines click the answers for traverses and roadway excavation quantities.

But electronic machines, even of the most advanced design, are not able to think. They are only able to supply lightning-fast answers to problems submitted to them by trained personnel. The skill of submission and interpretation of data still must be accomplished by engineers using the very basic science of mathematics pondered over and developed by pioneers of the past.

Our modern freeway is a memorial to men of the stature of Pythagoras, Archimedes, and Euclid—mental masters of the ages.

Mr. Wigginton, as I’m sitting in rush-hour traffic at I-8 and Lake Murray, I’ll be thinking of you.


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