U.S. 80 is one of the most historic routes traveling through Arizona. The roots of the road date back to the late 1846 and the first roads through Arizona Territory. Beginning in Yuma, the road followed the Gila River to Buckeye and Phoenix, then traveled east through the Valley to reach Florence Junction, then south to Florence. From there, the road headed southeast to Tucson, east to Benson, southeast to Bisbee and Douglas, and northeast to Lordsburg, NM.
Cooke's Wagon Road was improved from the original U.S. Army Gila Trail, deviating from the Gila River route through eastern Arizona in search of gentler terrain. The road was named after Captain Philip St. George Cooke, who constructed the route for the Mormon Battalion's supply wagons. The general route of Cooke's road became the East-West Territorial Road by 1909 (between Yuma and Phoenix), and the North-South Territorial Road from Phoenix to Douglas via Tucson. In 1914, the Ocean to Ocean Highway bridge was constructed in Yuma from Bureau of Indian Affairs funds.
By 1922, the route of U.S. 80 was known as the Bankhead Highway, and the Old Spanish Trail by 1923. In 1925, U.S. 80 was included in the Federal 7% system of highways for Arizona, and denoted as U.S. 80.
Between 1916 and 1924, U.S. 80 was realigned to more closely follow the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks between Dome and Buckeye. Prior to realignment, the road stayed on the north side of the river, but was prone to washouts as it traversed the mountains. The last piece of this project was the 1928 Gillespie Bridge, passing just south of Gillespie Dam over the Gila River.
In 1920, the first sections of U.S. 80 in Phoenix were paved in concrete, marking the first paved road in Arizona. By 1928, the section through Telegraph Pass was constructed, and paved by 1931.
In 1932, the Mule Pass section of U.S. 80 was reconstructed and paved. The Mill Avenue Bridge (in Tempe) opened in 1931, followed by Cienaga Creek east of Tucson in 1934 and the Stone Avenue (Tucson) railroad underpass in 1936.
By 1939, the entire highway was paved, except for the section between Florence and Oracle Junction. This became somewhat controversial, and the entire highway was paved by 1945, after reconstruction of some segments between the two cities.
In 1948, Telegraph Pass was reconstructed completely. In 1952, the new Mule Pass Tunnel opened, the longest one in Arizona. In 1956, the Gillespie Bridge was bypassed with a new high speed alignment east of the Gila River, and the Cienaga Creek bridge was bypassed with a new four lane expressway.
With the completion of Arizona 84 in 1930 and Arizona 86 in 1939, U.S. 80 became a secondary highway, as many thru travelers took those state highways as shortcuts to eliminate some of the extra distance traversed by U.S. 80.
With the advent of the Interstate system, Interstate 8 was planned to overlay U.S. 80 from Yuma to Gila Bend. Interstate 10 was planned to overlay U.S. 80 from Tucson to Benson. U.S. 80 remained an extant highway until 1977, when it was decommissioned from Yuma to Benson.
Between Wellton and Mohawk, U.S. 80 never overlapped with Interstate 8. State Route 85 replaced U.S. 80 between Gila Bend and Phoenix.
In 1989, the remainder of U.S. 80 was decommissioned in Arizona. This remaining section was renumbered to Arizona 80.
|Gila Bend and Buckeye|
|This owl points the way to old U.S. 80 just outside Gila Bend. This marks the beginning of the 1924 alignment that was bypassed in 1956. Photo taken 07/15/07.|
|Old U.S. 80 meets Watermelon Road here. Photo taken 07/15/07.|
|This bridge over Rainbow Wash has seen better days. Photo taken 07/15/07.|
|The Rainbow Wash bridge was washed out many years ago. Today, the road travels through the wash. Photo taken 07/15/07.|
|The Gillespie Bridge was completed in 1928. This two lane steel truss bridge replaced the original 1921 crossing of the Gila River (which crossed along Gillespie Dam). Photo taken 07/15/07.|
|Gillespie Dam was constructed in 1921 for flood control and water storage, but washed out in 1993 in a large flood. The dam has not been rebuilt. Photo taken 07/15/07.|
|This is an overview of the Gillespie bridge from the hillside above the bridge and dam. Photo taken 07/15/07.|
|Historic U.S. 80 at Arlington School Road, in Arlington north of the dam. Photo taken 07/15/07.|
|This is a typical panorama along Historic U.S. 80 between Arlington and SR 85. Photo taken 07/15/07.|
|Historic U.S. 80 does not meet SR 85 directly anymore. Travellers must follow Hazen Road to SR 85. Photo taken 07/15/07.|
|Directional signage to SR 85. Photo taken 07/15/07.|
07/15/07 by Kevin Trinkle
Page Updated 11-09-2007.