Title: Dept. of Public Works. Division of Highways/California Highway Commission Records
Inventory: F3778; F3779
Department of Public Works. Division of Highways/California Highway Commission
California State Archives
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[Identification of item], Dept. of Public Works. Division of Highways/California Highway Commission Records, F3778; F3779,
California State Archives.
The first state agencies formed for the purpose of constructing roadways were established in 1895. In that year, the Bureau
of Highways was created to study the laws, physical features, and economic and legal status of highways in the State (
Stats. 1895, ch. 203). In addition, a Tahoe Wagon Road Commissioner was appointed to investigate the possibilities of construction
of a road to Lake Tahoe (
Stats. 1895, ch. 119).
In 1897, the Department of Highways (headed by three Commissioners, reduced to one in 1898) assumed the functions of the Bureau
of Highways (
Stats. 1897, ch. 272). Both the functions of the Department of Highways and the Lake Tahoe Wagon Road Commissioner were absorbed
into the Department of Engineering in 1907 (
Stats. 1907, ch. 183). Highway work was handled by a subdivision of the Engineering Department called the Highway Department.
Three members were added to the Advisory Board of the Department of Engineering in 1911 (
Stats. 1911, ch. 409), who were vested with direct control over the Highway Department. On August 8, 1911, the Advisory Board designated
these members the California Highway Commission (hereafter CHC).
On October 9, 1911, the newly created CHC appointed a Highway Engineer to act as chief executive of the Highway Department
and created seven highway districts, each with a district office headed by a division engineer (hereafter referred to as district
engineers). District engineers were responsible for the location, construction, and maintenance of roads within their district
(see series entry 4, MINUTES, 1911-1978). At that time, the Highway Department contained five major organizational units:
legal, disbursing, accounting, and headquarters engineering (see organization chart I).
When the Department of Engineering was reorganized in 1915, the designation Bureau of Highways was officially used in place
of Highway Department, but the CHC continued to act as the executive body and the organization remained unchanged.
In 1921, the Bureau of Highways was re-designated the Division of Highways and along with the CHC was placed under the newly
created Department of Public Works (
Stats. 1921, ch. 607). The director of the Department acted both as State Highway Engineer and as Chief Executive of the CHC.
In 1923, however, highway activities were removed from the Department of Public Works and placed under the CHC which became
a totally independent body (
Stats. 1923, ch. 289). The Statutes of 1927 (ch. 252) again amended the Political Code relating to the Department of Public Works.
The Department succeeded to the power and duties of the Commission, although the CHC was recreated with more limited powers
including: the routing of highways, the funding of projects, the abandonment of routes, the inclusion of roads within the
State highway system, and the condemnation of property.
The CHC reorganized the Division of Highways in 1923. The Disbursing Department ceased to exist. In addition, six new Departments
were added: Bridges, Construction, Maintenance, Equipment, Prison Road Camps, and Surveys and Plans. Although the Division
was placed under the control of the Department of Public Works again in 1927 (
Stats. 1927, ch. 252), its organization remained essentially unchanged until 1947, with the following exceptions: in 1928, the Testing
and Research Laboratory was removed from the Construction Department and renamed the Materials and Research Department; in
the same year the
Department of Prison Road Camps was placed under the Construction Department; in 1933, the City and Cooperative Project Department
was created; and in 1938, the Department of Traffic and Safety was formed (see organization charts, pp. 3-6).
The CHC originally created seven highway districts to oversee construction and maintenance. By January 1924, increased construction
demands made necessary the addition of four additional districts, bringing the total to ten. An eleventh district was added
Increased highway funding in 1947 necessitated the revamping of the Division of Highways in August of that year. The Departments
of Construction, Maintenance, Equipment, and Research were made functions of a new Department of Operations. Traffic and Surveys
and Plans (renamed Design) were placed under the newly formed Department of Planning. An Administrative Department was established
encompassing the Office Engineer, County and Cooperative Projects (created in 1945), City and Cooperative Projects, Highway
Stores (in 1951 the name changed to Service and Supply), and the Federal Secondary Engineer (created June 1, 1945). Further,
the Department of Rights of Way was formed to handle right of way functions first centralized in 1941, and an Assistant state
highway engineer was made responsible for personnel matters and the prequalification of contractors (see organization charts,
The following additional changes were made to the 1947 organization before the elimination of the Division of Highways in
1973: in 1948, the Advanced Planning Department was established under the Department of Planning; the Department of Public
Relations and Personnel was formed in 1951; and 1962 brought the creation of the Office of Urban Planning under the Department
of Planning, and the renaming of the Accounting Department as the Department of Fiscal Management.
In 1973, the functions of the Division of Highways were assumed by the Department of Transportation (
Stats. 1971, ch. 1400 and
Stats. 1972, ch. 1253).
The California Highway Commission ceased to exist as of July 1, 1978 (
Stats. 1977, ch. 1106).