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Not Quite South Bay Freeway (CA 54 and BR 54)

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[54 Map] CA 54 is part of that company of California highways that have unified routings but persistently split alignments (others in this category include CA 178 and CA 168). Unlike, say, CA 168, where there's this small matter of these big mountains blocking the steamrollers, CA 54 simply didn't get the administrative push to connect up all the segments. Now that CA 54 is synonymous with its southern alignment, San Diego's South Bay Fwy, the eastern portion -- which was, interestingly, the first segment to be signed -- is now fading away. With the relinquishment to the city of El Cajon of the portion within city limits in 1999, the remaining portion is an orphaned segment of highway between two nebulous destinations, a ripe target for future administrative truncation -- hence its appearance here to photographically preserve what remains of the route.

The original, official routing for CA 54 extends from the present-day I-5/CA 54 junction to the 2nd St exit in El Cajon. This was defined in 1959 as Legislative Route Number 280, and was intended as part of a loop bypass around downtown (reflected in its original name, the "Belt Line Freeway" -- see the CA 252 exhibit for additional history of San Diego's loop system). Circa 1961, the South Bay Freeway was constructed between Sweetwater Rd in National City and Jamacha Blvd in Spring Valley, and by 1963, the remaining routing was pieced together using County Route S17 (shown on my 1963 San Diego map as signed entirely as SDCo S17) from Jamacha Blvd to CA 94, and then SDCo 17 again as Jamacha Rd all the way to its eastern terminus at the US 80 freeway (future I-8). However, neither portion would be signed for some time, and by 1972, only the eastern portion from I-8 to CA 94 was shown as signed, truncating the routing and alignment of SDCo S17 to the Jamacha Blvd/Campo Rd intersection. By 1976, maps would start showing the southern portion as CA 54 as well but the actual South Bay Fwy, the original intended loop route, would remain unsigned until well into the 1990s when it was finally extended west to its present junction with I-5. When CA 125 was extended south through Spring Valley, a new interchange was built for CA 54 to connect with it, closing the San Diego loop route at the southern end.

Despite the expansion, however, no effort was made to link the two sections, and the isolated eastern segment suffered a further blow when the portion of the alignment within the city limits of El Cajon (thus, its eastern terminus at I-8 down to the southern city limit just before Grove Rd) was relinquished in 1999. CA 54 would remain signed in El Cajon until later that year when the old California shields were replaced, perplexingly, with Interstate Business shields indicating a new "Business Route 54." Even these signs are starting to disappear, however; the "END BR 54" sign at the I-8 junction which once stood in 1999 is now gone, and the route is in general very sparsely marked.

Now that the eastern alignment's endpoints are the Campo Rd/Jamacha Rd junction in Rancho San Diego and the El Cajon city limits, an undistinguished routing, it seems that this orphaned portion will probably one day be deleted as well. For its part, SDCo S17 continues to link the two portions as Jamacha Blvd, apparently truncated to the south by the South Bay Fwy which bypasses it (although there is still inconsistent signage in the field, Bonita Rd and E St are no longer part of S17 according to NAVTEQ), and to the north by the CA 54 alignment that it may yet outlive.

Photographed December 2004, April 2005, February 2006 and November 2007.


The present-day western terminus, shown from SB I-5. This was completed in the 1990s, and is not part of the original South Bay Freeway. We exit to EB CA 54.

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This portion of CA 54 up to the I-805 junction is rather pretty with the central canal and the ample sunlight.

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Junction I-805, shot looking back at the WB side and those honking 805 shields on the overhead signs. This is the original termination point of the South Bay Freeway when first constructed.

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CA 54 through south Spring Valley.

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Approaching the junction for the CA 125 toll road (which is, btw, very nice, but not cheap).

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Separation. The signage indicates we are "together" as CA 54 and CA 125, but this doesn't last very long.

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Present eastern terminus at CA 125. There is no obvious evidence that CA 54 has ended in space. We exit Jamacha Blvd.

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'S-17' Detour Jamacha Blvd entering Spring Valley and La Presa. This is the present-day western terminus of SDCo S17, but there is another sign just before this, at the CA 54 onramp, alleging that S17 is actually co-routed with CA 54. This assertion does not hold up with any of my current maps nor with my NAVTEQ data, and is probably a holdover sign from when S17 traveled briefly with pre-CA 54 South Bay Fwy to Sweetwater Rd and turned south to join Bonita Rd, and then become E St. This old alignment has since been obliterated by the CA 54 freeway construction.

Nevertheless, despite this discontinuity introduced by the road work and the apparent truncation of SDCo S17, S17 shields do still appear inconsistently on Bonita Rd through Sunnyside and Bonita (but save for a lonely "END S17" shield at the E St/I-5 junction, Bonita Rd and E St within the Chula Vista city limits are almost totally devoid of S17 signage). Probably because of these orphaned signs still marking the route, these curious "S-17" [sic] temporary shields (right) were built and placed at the Briarwood Dr exit and (depicted here) portions of Sweetwater Rd during construction to direct people to the previous through route on Bonita Rd.

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Jamacha Blvd through La Presa, just past Grand Avenue. (Hi, Mom and Dad!) Mount Miguel is faintly visible in the background.

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The Sweetwater Reservoir, visible on the right as we travel EB on SDCo S17.

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Jamacha Blvd is in the process of widening due to the large numbers of housing developments being erected in what was originally empty land. This (rather witty, I think) sign reminds drivers that the developers' road work isn't to blame for the exorbitant sales tax.

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Green mile marker. This is typical for San Diego county-maintained routes. It is also significant in that it indicates there are no standard highway postmiles (and thus that this alignment was not adopted as a state route).

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Junction CA 94, at Campo Rd. Although the sign alleges that SDCo S17 continues on with Campo Rd, there are no shields for it past this point.

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EB CA 94, past Jamacha Blvd and approaching the CA 94/CA 54 junction.

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Sign announcing the junction, on EB CA 94. This replaced the original sign, which was done in old-style button copy.

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Junction of CA 94/CA 54, facing westbound on Jamacha Road CA 54 for a better angle. CA 94 continues briefly south and then east again as old Campo Road. A significant amount of commercial construction occurred during the 1990s as housing developments expanded south from El Cajon; previously this area was quite underdeveloped.

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First shield, just beyond the junction. There is no BEGIN shield.

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First visible postmile, at Fury Ln. Note the count is 11.5 miles, which would be the approximate distance to its western terminus.

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EB CA 54 at Willow Glen. Most of the shields for CA 54 appear on traffic signal signs, like this one.

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One of the few freestanding shields remaining, although since this was taken in 2005 it has since disappeared.

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EB CA 54 at Hillsdale, just before its official termination.

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CA 54's new eastern terminus, at the El Cajon city limits.

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On the westbound side, a corresponding "BEGIN 54" appears.

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Despite no longer being a state route in the city limits, one or two of the postmiles are still visible. Unfortunately, they are naturally falling into disrepair. This is probably the best preserved example, but it's still rather illegible.

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First EB appearance of the "BR 54" marker, with, as mentioned, the incorrect use of an interstate shield. Signing it as "Business CA 54" (like Business CA 18) would have been at least technically accurate, so I wonder where the ball was dropped. Notice that the WEST banner has a PROPERTY STATE OF CALIFORNIA decal, but the BR 54 signage does not -- they are erected and maintained by the City of El Cajon, so the mistake was the city's, not Caltrans'.

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Junction at E. Main St in El Cajon, where "BR 54" changes names to Second St.

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Terminus at I-8. No obvious end marker seems to remain. There used to be one when BR 54 was first signed, but it's apparently gone now.

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Just for a recap of signage, we take EB I-8, loop around, and come back on WB I-8 to look at the exit to 2nd St. Note the greenout covering up what used to be the CA 54 route marker.

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Exiting 2nd St and heading back to Spring Valley south on BR 54, we see the first "BR 54" marker heading westbound again. It remains to be seen how long even this substandard signage will stay posted.

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All images, photographs and multimedia, unless otherwise stated, are copyright © 2004-2014 Cameron Kaiser. All rights reserved. All writeups are copyright © 2004-2014 Cameron Kaiser. All rights reserved. Unauthorized copying or duplication without express consent of the copyright holder is strictly prohibited. Please contact the sitemaster to request permission if you wish to use items from this page.

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