A big blast set off by the Governor started a construction project to improve a rugged road and major connection to San Diego—with parts still in use today.

“On a rocky mountain slope of the Coast Range barrier between Imperial and San Diego counties, Governor Frank P. Merriam on October 29 set off the first dynamite blast starting construction on the proposed new Mountain Springs Grade of U. S. 80,” reported Edward J. Neron, Deputy Director of Public Works, in the November 1938 edition of California Highways and Public Works.

1938 map of Mountain Springs Grade improvements
1938 map of Mountain Springs Grade improvements

Running east from Jacumba to the Imperial Valley, the road today is Interstate 8; parts of this, improved two-lane road are today half of the freeway that’s a key link between San Diego and Arizona. This area is covered in my “Towering Old Highway” book on Amazon Kindle and my Joyrides Around San Diego book in print.

“This highway has gradually developed from an old wagon stage road rising from the desert below sea level to the summit of the Coast Range,” wrote Neron.

1938 story on Mountain Springs Grade from California Highways and Public Works Magazine.
1938 story on Mountain Springs Grade from California Highways and Public Works Magazine.

The full story, starting on page 20 of the old magazine, and a 1940 update, are looks at just how much of a challenge it was to build the highways that today we take for granted.

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