Sep 25

Cuesta Freeway

An overflow crowd of over 300 attended a San Luis Obispo City Council meeting on a proposed freeway plan from San Luis Obispo to Cuesta College. 10-11-1971 ©The Tribune

Until the 101 freeway was built, driving through San Luis Obispo always required a dog leg turn. Highway 1 is offset from 227. Driving north on the old highway, a traveler enters on Higuera and exits on Monterey Streets. Creeks, hills, and later railroads and freeway have all conspired to tangle with the mind of the linear driver.
Engineers look at the tangle and think, “With money and bulldozers these bottlenecks can be removed.”
Take Highway 1 for example.
In the early 60s a proposal by the state – made at the request of the city — sketched a new highway route near Broad Street at the base of San Luis Mountain or near the railroad tracks. Residents and environmental groups halted those plans.

Proposed freeway interchange brought Highway 1 through a saddle in the hills next to the Madonna Inn at left.

Soon a new route was adopted in 1965 by the state highway department [now Caltrans] and by 1970 had advanced to the point where city approval was required. That is when the ‘build and grow’ ethic of 50s and 60s crashed into the nascent environmental movement of the 70s.
The plan was to build a Highway 1 freeway from Cuesta College to Highway 101 near the Madonna Inn. It would cost more than $2 million a mile for the 7.1 mile expansion.
In a February 9, 1971 article mayor Ken Schwartz argued a better alternative would be to build the road near Laguna Lake and connect at Prado Road. Downtown business owners were leery of a downtown bypass and city residents objected to losing a park to freeway development.
Highway department officials said that they liked their 7.1 mile plan and dismissed alternatives connecting at Los Osos Valley Road or Prado Road.
Supporters argued that the $16 million dollar project would make streets safer and remove an intolerable bottleneck.
The project was supported by city planners, city engineer David Romero and several land owners and contractors. C.A. Maino was quoted as saying that we need a road “from hell to breakfast” to move traffic.
As the new proposal moved forward, groups that opposed the earlier plan reactivated. Petitions were circulated and large numbers attended  city council meetings. The then Telegram-Tribune editorialized against the road March 4, 1971 in a piece headlined “Maybe we won’t need additional freeways”.
At a five-hour-long city council meeting October 11, 1971 about 60 people spoke from an audience of almost 300. All but eight were against the freeway.
Among the issues raised a 1,500 foot stretch of San Luis Creek habitat would be disturbed by the new interchange, the base of the Morros would be scarred and there was doubt road was needed. Groups including the Sierra Club, Audobon Society, Zero Population Growth, League of Women Voters, Ecology Action and Obispo Beautiful association spoke out against the road.
The road lost a 3-2 council vote. Freeway supporters tried to revive the issue over the next few years but times had changed.

In other news on the page another environmental battle was forming over a proposed new marina in Morro Bay.


As someone who drives the roads of the county frequently, I don’t miss the unbuilt Cuesta freeway but why  isn’t there an adequate Los Osos Valley Road interchange or any Prado Road interchange? It has been a topic for discussion for least 40 years. Hey we saved $16 million in unspent construction dollars ($83,818,487.96 in 2009 dollars according to Westegg inflation calculator) by skipping the Cuesta freeway. It seems like big idea projects find funding but garden variety bridges are harder to get done.

Memo to Sacramento: I can live without numbered freeway signs, traffic cameras and electronic traffic condition signs. I know budgets are lean now but could we put overpasses on the wish list for within the next 40 years?
What is on your Caltrans wish list?

October 12, 1971 Telegram-Tribune

October 12, 1971 Telegram-Tribune, inside page

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