So why is it that San Diego’s freeways are known by numbers? Why are they where they are? It’s the legacy of Jacob Dekema, the head of Caltrans District XI during the time that most of San Diego’s freeways were planned and built, who has died at 101.

From 1955-80, Dekema was Chief Engineer of Caltrans District XI, which includes San Diego, Imperial and Riverside counties. His team at Caltrans designed and built our transportation system. While it’s been expanded over the 37 years since he retired, it’s still the pattern of our daily lives. Here’s his report from 1958.

He and his successors talk of those times in a Caltrans video. A bio and video by his alma mater, the University of Southern California, looks at his full life and career.

And about those names…

“I guess there were people who wanted to honor me somehow, and they couldn’t think of anything better to do,” Dekema told the old San Diego Tribune in 1987 about Interstate 805, which was named for Dekema after his 1980 retirement. “But I never liked names for freeways. I just wanted numbers.”

San Diego uses numbers.

“As the local CalTrans chief for 25 years, Dekema quietly left his mark on local thoroughfares,” wrote the Tribune‘s Nancy Cleeland. “And so, while Los Angeles drivers steer through a maze of freeways known as Santa Ana, San Diego, Hollywood and Long Beach, San Diego has simply: 5, 8, 15 and 163. It’s still 805, despite the 10-foot signs in Sorrento Valley and San Ysidro that say ‘Jacob Dekema Freeway.'”

Bon voyage, Mr. Dekema.

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