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Elvas Freeway

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The map on the right from 1959. Shows in the upper right hand corner the Elvas & North Sacramento Freeways. Work began on the Elvas Freeway bridge in May 1950, Due to steel shortages in 1951, construction the project was put on hold until steel priorities could be cleared. Flooding in November 1950 also held up the pouring of the piers in the American River. Work began again in 1952 on the 2.9 mile four lane freeway. The new Elvas Freeway began at C  & 29th/30th Streets and continued to the Arden Way/Swanston Road junction. Work was completed in December 1954, and was opened to traffic on May 12th, 1955  at 30th & B street. Opening ceremonies were hosted by Governor Knight. During the first 24 hours, 23,010 vehicles traveled the Elvas Freeway directing traffic off the 12th Street Bridge      (US 40) , Jibboom Street Bridge(State 24) & H Street Bridge (Legislative Route 98).


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Top Photo is the Left entrance at Arden Way onto the southbound Elvas Freeway (US 99W). On the right you can see the onramp to the North Sacramento Freeway (US 40).  Photo's Courtesy of Cal-Trans

Above is a close-up of the overhead in the picture above. Notice the US shields have no white background. And each freeway has a control Street & city. In the color photo above you can see the current sign bridge at the Bus. 80/SR 160 split this photo was taken on the oppsite side of the freeway than the one on top.

Elvas Freeway History (1950-81)

This 2.9 mile freeway was the first to be completed in 1955. The other two freeways, named the 29/30th Street & the W-X Freeways, were not completed until 1968. They would direct traffic around downtown Sacramento. Planning for the Elvas Freeway started in 1947-48 in a traffic survey reported by the Division of Highways & the US Bureau of Public Roads. This report stated that a new highway needed to be constructed routing traffic around the downtown area. With public approval in 1949, the California Highway Commission adopted a routing from Arden Way/North Sacramento Freeway to 29/30th Street at C street. Construction contracts were awarded. The first contract started in July 1950

Weather stops construction:

On November 21, 1950 the American River suddenly rose 30 feet due to unusually wet weather.  Folsom Dam was not completed until 1955 so there was nothing to stop the racing current down the American River except levees along the each bank. At that time footing construction (Glory Hole) was under way making cofferdams for the five spans across the main channel. The contractor was unable to remove his equipment to higher ground. Eighteen pieces of equipment , including four cranes, were submerged. Work on the cofferdams resumed in June 1951. Final completion of the Elvas freeway project was delayed by unusually wet weather in the spring of 1955.

Governor Knight opens the Elvas Freeway

Governor Knight, who had just returned from the conference of governors on President Eisenhower's national highway program, addressed several hundred people who came out to witness the opening of the Elvas Freeway. The Governor thanked the Division of Highways, Department of Public Works, City & County of Sacramento for a job well done under extremely difficult climatic conditions. Unknown at the time, the meeting the governor attended would in another 12 years decommission US 99E.

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Aerial Photo looking south over the Arden Way overpass at the Elvas/North Sacramento Fwy Split. You can see the bridges over the American River at the second curve along with the Railroad underpass. The Elvas Fwy ends just as the freeway disappears into the trees. Notice all the open acreage along the freeway. A lot has changed since 1955. Two hotels, several business complexes, a shopping mall, and the California State Fairgrounds now occupy the open areas along the freeway. The building to the right of the interchange is still there (Continental Baking Company). Photo Courtesy of Cal-Trans

Elvas Freeway Structures

Work began on the substructure of the parallel American River Bridges in July 1950. Contracts was awarded to two different contractors, one for the substructure and one for the Superstructure. Due to unusually wet weather the American River Bridge wasn't completed until August 1954. Construction of two railroad overpasses to accommodate the Southern Pacific Lines was completed in February 1954. The bridge at the American River created an unusally high banked turn to go under the first railroad overpass. This bridge which is named the Elvas Underpass originally was an extension of Elvas Avenue between downtown and east Sacramento. A two lane overcrossing plus on & off ramps were built for the new State Fair grounds north of the American River, which was completed and opened in 1967. A flood control gate needed to be built to protect Downtown in case of a levee break on the American River. Two overcrossings for A & B Street were completed in February 1954. B Street carried the railroad & A Street was a two lane for vehicular traffic. There was a need for a interchange overpass with the North Sacramento Freeway. Before the work could start on the overpasses, the eastbound lanes of the North Sacramento Freeway had to be switched so the approaches could be constructed. Orginally, all four lanes of the North Sacramento Freeway used the two overpasses used by the inbound Elvas & North Sacramento Freeways. Realigning the eastbound lanes about a hundred feet to the east made a higher banked onramp rejoining the freeway at Arden Way.

Legislative Route 98

Completion of the Elvas Freeway changed the alignment of Route 98 (US 99E) from the following signalized city street system alignment: 16th Street to H Street left continue on H Street over the American River. After crossing the bridge H Street changes to Fair Oaks Blvd. At Howe Ave. turn left continue on Howe Ave. to El Camino Ave. turn left on El Camino Ave. to Auburn Blvd. This route was used many times during the closure of US 40 due to flooding prior to the bridge over the American River. After the construction of a bridge over the Natomas East Main Drainage Canal in 1942 eliminated the flood detour route listed above. For more information on this check out my North Sacramento Freeway page (US 40-99E) COMING SOON!

Traffic Flow

In 1948, only 55,000 vehicles a day traveled over the two state and one county/state bridges utilizing 10 narrow lanes to carry traffic in and out of the City of Sacramento. Traffic counts in 1954, using the same bridges, counted 105,300 vehicles a day. An 85% increase over the 1948 count. Before the Elvas Freeway was built the following improvments were made. First in 1949, the 12th Street underpass was widened to four lanes to take inbound traffic away from the narrow  4 lane 16th Street underpass. Second, a gradual development of an effective one-way street operation within the city was implemented. Third, a widening of the H Street Subway and Bridge in 1951, also construction of a underpass and interchange on J Street for the new state university.  Even with all of the above improvements completed, traffic counts and congestion continued to climb.

Elvas Freeway Project Studies

A report completed and released in 1948, to the City & County of Sacramento & Division of Highways (Cal-Trans)  included the traffic count and project improvements, I talked about in the article above. In this study, also reported on building another freeway from the eastern side of Downtown to connect with the newly constructed North Sacramento Freeway at Arden Way. The project would be constructed with four lanes, expanding to six lanes at a later date. Future plans for connecting the Elvas freeway with the 29/30th street freeway & the South Sacramento freeway (US 50-99) which required acquiring the right of ways would link North Sacramento with Oak Park, Florin & Elk Grove areas in southern Sacramento county. After discussing the report, a decision was made to aquire funding from State, County, & Federal agencies and procede with the project.

A Street Overpass

This two lane bridge over the Elvas freeway just north of the 29th/30th Street Freeway & the railroad overpass was constructed to provide access for a farmers property which was split into two sections when the Elvas Freeway was constructed. The A street bridge gave the farmer access to the orchards on both sides of the freeway. Plans were made to connect the two portions of A street, but this project was never started. The property has been sold to a developer who plans to build a business complex on this site, so the A street bridge could be widened for the new business complex, or a completely new interchange could be constructed. Check out photos below.

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Elvas Freeway changes name & route number   In the early eighties AASHTO changed the routing of Interstate 80 through the Sacramento metropolitan area, current I-80 from West Sacramento to the junction with Interstate 880 in Northeastern Sacramento County to State 51 and signed as Business 80. Part of the reason I-80 was rerouted was the antiquated design and construction of this 1950's freeway, with narrow shoulders and center dividers. *( West Sacramento Freeway from the Yolo Causeway to the junction of SR-99 and US-50 was originally resigned as I-305 in 1980, but this was changed to US-50 in 1981). In 1979 the City Council of Sacramento voted to use the funds scheduled for the new I-80 alignment between A street and the junction of I-80 and I-880, and use the funding for a light rail transit system.  In 1996, the City Council of Sacramento votes to rename the following freeways (West Sacramento, 29th/30th, W-X, & Elvas Freeways) as the Capital City Freeway, at a cost of around $150,000. For a complete history on the Capital City Freeway check out Andy Field web site (click on Capital City Freeway)
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In the photo on the right this sign is the only place on the Capitol City Freeway you will find a state 51 shield. Excuse the fuzzy picture there is no place to pull off to take a sharp picture on this onramp

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Photo above taken at the southern end of the Elvas Freeway at the intersection of C Street and 29 & 30th Street. You can see the overpass for the railroad, plus the A street overcrossing running parallel with the railroad. Continuing up the Elvas on the right is the storage for the flood control gates. You can see off to the right as the railroad swings around to cross the freeway in the upper portion of the photo along with the parallel bridges over the American River. Note the two railroad bridges were completed in 1953 one year before the A street & the American River bridges. Photo Courtesy of CalTrans

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Arden Way exit on northbound Elvas Freeway, notice sign bridge is in the gore point along with the railing. Picture was taken in the early 60's when US-99E was cosigned with I-80. Notice that the US-99E shield has no white background, it was just outlined. When Exposition Blvd overpass was built in 1968 this sign was moved to the overpass with a new sign without the US-99E shield on it.(US-99E was decommissioned in 1967)  Photo Courtesy of CalTrans
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Looking north you can see the flood control gates storage room on the right hand side. These gates are used to protect Downtown from flood waters. Notice there is no center divider guard railing, and only four lanes (1966 widen to six lanes). Photos Courtesy of Cal-Trans                     

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Picture taken from the A street Overpass in almost the same spot as the 1954 photo above, you can see the flood control gate storage room on the right hand side beside the tree. In this photo you can see the center divider and the extra lanes (Added in 1966). Notice all the growth around the freeway, a lot has changed in 45 years.

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Picture above from 1952 shows work in progress on the bridge over the American River. You can see the supports in place with some of the deck supports in place. In the background you can see some grading work in progress approching the North Sacramento Freeway in the distance. Photo Courtesy of CalTrans

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Elvas Freeway Bridge over the American River. Built in 1954, with two separate spans & by two different contractors. Total cost $ 1,649,980 (1954 dollars).Photo #1in B/W  taken in 1954 soon after the Elvas Freeway was opened, photo #2 in color taken in 1999 shows you what changes this bridge has gone through in 45 years to the railing, and joining the two spans in 1966. Also notice all the growth along the riverbanks

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Photo above taken from the railroad overpass looking towards the bridge over the American River, you can see the banked curve and 3 % grade which  was needed to align the roadway with the bridge abutment, from this angle you can see the center divider & the six lanes with narrow lanes not up to interstate standards. Which is part of the reason this route was changed to Business 80 (SR-51) in 1982 per AASHTO approval

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Photo Above: Shows the railing for the A street bridge notice the divots in the curbing, along with the stairstep design at each end, also the old white guard railing on the right side. In the lower left corner is a close up of the date stamp below the guard railing.

Special Thanks to Casey Cooper & Andy Field for their contributions to this page.

If you have any comments, suggestions or updated information on the Elvas Freeway.

The preceding page is the property of the Highwayman any use of this page without the permission of the Highwayman is prohibited

Please send them to me at hywaymn@pacbell.net

Special Thanks to Casey Cooper for his help with all of the shields for my pages

Last updated July 20th, 1999

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