California 163/Cabrillo Freeway
Southbound California 163/Cabrillo Freeway meets Interstate 5 at a four-level stack interchange. This view of the exit signage for Interstate 5 is from the Cabrillo Bridge on El Prado in Balboa Park in San Diego. Click here for another view. Photo taken by Jeff Royston and Andy Field (05/19/07).
California 163 is the Cabrillo Freeway in San Diego, which follows the original freeway alignment of U.S. 395 between downtown San Diego and Miramar. The freeway changed designations once, when U.S. 395 was legislatively decommissioned in 1964. Ths signs weren't immediately removed, but by 1969, California 163 was signed on former U.S. 395. U.S. 395 shields remained alongside California 163 shields until at least 1972 or 1973 based on AAA maps from that time period. Today, California 163 is a major north-south connection in the San Diego freeway network. The section of freeway north of Interstate 8 is Interstate-standard, eight-lane freeway. The section of California 163 south of Interstate 8 through Balboa Park is a historic freeway that was one of the first freeways constructed in the city of San Diego. It is not Interstate standard, features a wide, grassy/tree-lined median, has only four lanes for the most part, and has several sharp curves (for a freeway). In an effort to improve safety along the section through the park, wooden guardrails with steel reinforcement were installed in December 2004 on either side of the grassy median.
The freeway through the park is a designated California state scenic route and historic route. Great care was taken to ensure the minimum possible impact of the pavement on the surrounding greenery of Balboa Park. In a 1958 edition of California Highways and Public Works magazine, Jacob Dekema (a former director of Caltrans District XI) described the 2.5-mile stretch of freeway through the park:
- U.S. 395 [California 163/Cabrillo Freeway] acquires freeway character at A Street at the southern tip of 1,400-acre Balboa Park, which is imbedded in the geographical heart of the City of San Diego. The Cabrillo Freeway sweeps with gentle curves through a central valley of the park, providing the motorist with one of the most scenic drives in California. The initial freeway effort in District XI, it [California 163 through Balboa Park] still stands as a model of beauty and efficiency.1
Built between 1942 and 1947, the freeway opened in 1947 as U.S. 395. U.S. 395/Cabrillo Freeway was the first freeway to be constructed anywhere in San Diego County. The Cabrillo Freeway dates to an era when the oldest Los Angeles freeways were being built, including U.S. 66/Arroyo Seco Parkway, which is now known as California 110/Pasadena Freeway. U.S. 395 was designed to connect the 10th Avenue and 11th Avenue couplet with Friars Road with a connection via 6th Avenue near Hillcrest into Mission Valley. The freeway was then extended north from Friars Road in phases thereafter to its current terminus at Interstate 15 in Marine Corps Air Station - Miramar.
A four-level interchange at the southern end of the freeway allows for movements in nearly all directions, except from northbound 11th Avenue to southbound Interstate 5 and from northbound Interstate 5 to southbound 10th Avenue. This interchange was initially decried by preservationists who feared such a large concrete structure would dominate the aesthetics in the park, but it seems to fit in well. Since its inception, the Cabrillo Freeway has retained only four lanes, and various efforts to expand the freeway have met with fierce resistance from local preservationists and community activists who appreciate the older design and lower capacity quality of the freeway. California 163 along the original Cabrillo Freeway alignment was established as an official state scenic route in 2003, and signs were posted to demonstrate its status as a historical route.
South of Interstate 5, there were likely plans to extend California 163 as a freeway along the 10th/11th Avenue couplet south to F Street and G Street, which in turn would connect California 163 directly to California 94, the Martin Luther King Jr. Freeway. Freeway plans contemplated this freeway connection until around 1984; maps from the 1970s and 1980s routinely showed California 163 signed on 10th Avenue and 11th Avenue. Maps still showed California 163 on 10th and 11th Avenue even after the freeway plan was scraped, but it is not clear if California 163 was ever signed on the surface streets. Two overhead signs on southbound California 163 just prior to the Interstate 5 interchange were modified in 1999 to eliminate a reference to California 94. With redevelopment now occurring throughout downtown San Diego and in the East Village, the freeway plan to connect California 163 to California 94 with a connecting freeway is dead and will not return.
|Scenes Pertaining to California 163: Cabrillo Bridge|
|This series of pictures shows the Cabrillo Bridge (Laurel Street Bridge) from a path in Balboa Park along the western frontage of the California 163 freeway, looking northeast. The Cabrillo Bridge carries Laurel Street/El Prado over California 163/Cabrillo Freeway. It was opened in 1915 well before the freeway was constructed; California 163 (then known as U.S. 395) was built in the 1940s, and it was one of the first freeways to be constructed in San Diego. The freeway threads through the canyon below the bridge, and a culvert carries the water that used to follow naturally through the canyon. The Cabrillo Bridge could easily have more lanes of traffic pass under it, but concerns about an ever-expanding freeway into Balboa Park have prevented any further expansions of the freeway in the canyon. For more on the history of this bridge and of California 163 in Balboa Park, visit Cabrillo Bridge (Richard Amero). Photos taken 10/26/02.|
|These photos provide a view of the Cabrillo Bridge from a path in Balboa Park along the western frontage of the California 163 freeway, looking southeast. The bridge was constructed between 1912 and 1914, with San Diego Union-Tribune indicating that then-Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin Roosevelt was the first to drive across the new bridge. He later became President of the United States. The bridge was in full use in 1915 as part of the Panama-California Exposition. Photos taken 10/26/02.|
|This series of photos provides views of the Cabrillo Bridge, which carries Laurel Street over California 163, as seen looking northbound from a Balboa Park hiking trail located adjacent to the right-of-way for the freeway. Photo taken 03/06/98.|
|These views of California 163 north are taken from the abandoned Richmond Street overcrossing. Photos taken 10/26/02.|
|Pedestrian Bridge Overcrossing|
|This series of pictures shows the pedestrian bridge over California 163 in Balboa Park north of the Quince Street and Richmond Street exits. Photos taken 10/26/02.|
- "Report from District XI" by Jacob Dekema, District Engineer, California Highways and Public Works, November-December 1958, page 46.
Page Updated May 3, 2011.