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Inventory of the California Highway Commission Records
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Administrative History
  • Scope and Content
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: California Highway Commission Records
    Dates: 1911-1978
    Collection number: R295
    Creator: California Highway Commission
    Collection Size: 157 cubic feet
    Repository: California State Archives
    Sacramento, California
    Abstract: The records of the California Highway Commission consists of 157 cubic feet of textual records with selected photographs interfiled reflecting the Commission's study, review, planning, and funding of California's highway projects. The records, dated from 1911-1978, cover the entire period of the Commission's existence and their efforts to extend, improve, and maintain state highways.
    Physical location: California State Archives
    Languages: Languages represented in the collection: English

    Administrative Information


    Collection is open for research.

    Publication Rights

    For permission to reproduce or publish, please contact the California State Archives. Permission for reproduction or publication is given on behalf of the California State Archives as the owner of the physical items. The researcher assumes all responsibility for possible infringement which may arise from reproduction or publication of materials from the California State Archives collections.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], California Highway Commission Records, [identification number]:[folder number], California State Archives, Office of the Secretary of State, Sacramento, California.

    Acquisition and Custodial History

    The California State Archives acquired the records of California Highway Commission according to state law.

    Administrative History

    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. 128). 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) and delegated to them powers necessary to the work of constructing the state highways under the State Highways Act.
    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 1, MINUTES). At that time, the Highway Department contained five major organizational units: legal, disbursing, accounting, and headquarters engineering.
    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 re-created 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.
    The CHC originally created seven highway districts to oversee construction and maintenance. By January 1924, increased construction demands made necessary the addition of three new districts, bringing the total to ten. An eleventh district was added in 1935.
    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.
    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).

    Scope and Content

    The California Highway Commission Collection consists of 157 cubic feet of textual records with selected photographs interfiled reflecting the Commission's study, review, planning, and funding of California's highway projects. The records, dated from 1911-1978, cover the entire period of the Commission's existence and their efforts to extend, improve, and maintain state highways. The records are organized into twenty-two series: Minutes, Meeting Files, Records of Commission Hearings, General Correspondence, Correspondence of Commissioner Harrison R. Baker, Correspondence of the Commission Secretary, Press Releases, Condemnation Resolutions, Cooperative Agreements, Proposed Highway Contract File, Progress Reports, Report on Additions to the Highway System, Seminar Transcript, County Files, Subject Files, State Highway Finance Board Minutes, Highway Budget, Reports, Commissioner Files, Administrative Files, Project Files, and Financial Files.
    The records of this agency are useful in tracing the development and growth of California's highway system. The minutes, transcripts, and background material collected for meetings demonstrate the debates and concerns of the Commission over the quality and funding of highways as well as the needs and concerns of the local communities affected by the roadways. Series are organized according to county and district (as determined by the Commission) and relate to specific projects and programs initiated in those counties and districts. Prominent projects include the Century Freeway and Mulholland Scenic Drive in Los Angeles County, Route 39 in Orange County, Doyle Drive in San Francisco County, and the Manteca Bypass in San Joaquin County.
    When researching the history of transportation in California the reports, minutes and corresponding materials, and committee files will offer great insight about projects and priorities within the Commission itself. Progress reports for 1912-1913 contain a chart listing each segment of road under construction, the date of the survey, the layout, and the contract number. In the Minutes series, resolution summaries and reports from the Highway Engineer on proposed building projects relate to the feasibility of various proposals and frequently include maps. Records of bids, contracts, letting of funds, condemnation of property and the abandonment of highway routes, tabulations of federal funds obtained for state highway construction and monthly lists of all employees hired, terminated, or granted a raise and their salaries (to 1924 only) illuminate for researchers the process and people involved in the planning and construction of highways. Of special interest is a report on the orderly addition of new roads to the state highway system which appears in the July 24, 1930 minutes of the Commission. After 1935, verbatim transcripts are frequently available for conferences in which municipal and county officials as well as automobile clubs' representatives presented their opinions and concerns to the Commission. Also of interest is a verbatim transcript of a meeting between the Commission and the State Board of Prison Directors to discuss the use of road gangs in the building of highways, which appears in materials relating to the October 21, 1943 meeting of the CHC.
    The Commission had the authority to condemn property for the right-of-way of highways and condemnation resolutions make up a large percentage of the Commission's later records. Resolutions of condemnation were voted on at CHC meetings, and a summary of the resolutions appear in the Commission minutes. The series of condemnation resolutions include a copy of the Commission resolution, a description of the lands being condemned, and maps showing the exact location of the condemned property which are useful for tracing how highways have changed the natural landscape and personal property lines.
    Subject files contain budget information and records of committees appointed by or charged by the CHC with specific tasks related to the gathering and presenting of information regarding programs, construction, and policy procedures. In the report series, reports from 1912, 1921, and 1934 (which includes a report on the California state highway system prepared by Automobile Club of Southern California and the California State Automobile Association) provide the early history of California highways and will offer early reference points for changes over time.
    The Commissioner files and Administrative files give insight into the functions and process of Commission work including policy, staff duties, members and their biographies, policy, and clarification on the distinction between the Public Works Department of Transportation and the Highway Commission. As part of the Administrative Files series, two file folders pertaining to the naming of highways, freeways, and expressways reflect the shift in the legislative authority away from the Commission. Peripherally interesting to the researcher may be the Commission decals, branding irons, and Commission and commissioner photos within the Commissioners Files series which include photos of the commission with Governor Ronald Reagan when the Commission was dissolved by the Legislature.
    The Project Files and Financial Files series relate to specific projects and corresponding financial needs of the highway system. The Project Files series includes 1977 status reports for projects in progress and those projected for future construction, organized by district. Other significant files are the four file folders relating to the Six-year highway program proposed by the Commission which took considerable critique from the Department of Transportation. The Financial File contain the budgets, audit reports, and cost-benefit analysis considered by the Commission.

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.
    Roads Design and construction
    California. Highway Commission