NOTE: I thought I would write this, just to give people an idea of what US 99 really is, since I keep posting stuff about it all the time.
To the common individual, the RMS Olympic is a very much unknown ship. Few individuals who keep from venturing further than ordinary into the history surrounding its sister ship, Titanic, know about Olympic. Both were part of a series of ships known as the Olympic-class liners. Similarly, U.S. Route 66, the highway equivalent of Titanic, is also part of a series of highways, known as the U.S. Numbered Highway system. Like the Olympic-class, there is a U.S. Highway equivalent to Olympic as well. This is U.S. Route 99. Although having lived a very short life of only 46 years, US 99 served as the main link between Washington, Oregon and California for several years and has a history which has literally helped shape the United States' west coast into what it is today.
NOTE: This does not encompass US 99 itself to a large degree. I recommend skipping this if you do not wish to read it.
To understand much of the historical significance behind US 99, one must look into the past, long before the highway existed. US 99's origins stem from the Spanish controlled California and Native American controlled Oregon Country. In California, mission roads connected much of the present-day cities, which were at the time, missions used by Spanish settlers. In Oregon, Native American trading trails, marked only by the hearts and knowledge of the traders themselves, connected Spanish California with Puget Sound. By the 19th century, Oregon was under control by the British and Americans, feuding over the territory. It was at this point in time, where several new settlements sprung up, including Oregon City, Portland, Seattle, Tacoma, both Vancouvers and many other small settlements which would grow into small towns and large cities. At this point, the Hudson's Bay Company was using a former Native American trading route as the Siskiyou Trail, which was greatly widened by a cattle driver in the 1830's. This opened up Southern Oregon to settlers heading west across the Great Plains
In the 1840's, Mexico lost a gigantic portion of its land to the United States during the Mexican War, which was slightly expanded by the 1858 Gadsden Purchase. Following the 1848 Gold Rush, California became a state in 1850 as did Oregon in 1859, splitting off Washington and what would become Idaho in the process. In Washington, George Pickett helped to construct a large bridge across a small creek in Bellingham and Isaac Stevens became the first territorial governor in 1853. Both Stevens and Pickett became involved in the American Civil War, which killed Stevens and publicly embarrassed Pickett after his infamous charge under Robert E. Lee.
Following the devastating war, the West Coast only continued to expand. Settlers began arriving from the war-torn east, while California and Oregon began growing their economies through shipping and lumber. The Siskiyou Trail began growing many settlements, and had a telegraph line established along it. The California based Pacific Mail Steamship Company began the first transpacific liner service, between San Francisco and Japan via China, further growing California's population and boosting the San Francisco economy. Railroads were set up along the West Coast, connecting Seattle and California more efficiently. New towns sprung up along these tracks, such as Grants Pass in Oregon.
By the 1880's industry had grown even further. Columbia became the first commercial use of Thomas Edison's light bulb and was based out of Portland, Oregon. With this, electric lighting was introduced to the west coast. Bill Mulholland engineered the Los Angeles Aqueduct, which saved the dying city from a loss of water. In 1889, Seattle burned to the ground, while Washington was granted statehood. Only ten years later, primitive highways began replacing the wagon trails around the nation. Thanks to the Alaskan Gold Rush and large national aid, Seattle was re-built into a much better city. In 1898, road workers blasted open a coastal segment of the R.F. Murrow Road, which would later become Chuckanut Drive. R.F. Murrow Road was later absorbed into the Pacific Highway.
In the 1900's Henry Ford gave rise to the Ford Motor Company and Model T, which launched everyone into the automobile age. In response, an eccentric entrepreneur named Sam Hill began proposing a massive highway to connect the west coast. After much work and lobbying, the Oregon State Legislature supported his idea and formed a state highway system. Several small trails and roads between Portland and the California border became the new Pacific Highway. Not long after, British Columbia, Washington and California accepted Pacific Highway into their new highway systems as well. This effectively gave birth to what would become the northern section of US 99.
Meanwhile, all of California south of Bakersfield threatened secession, due to poor connections between Los Angeles and the northern part of the state. In 1915, a strong new highway was built as a direct link between Bakersfield and Los Angeles, which eliminated the problem. This was the Ridge Route Highway. Some years later, an inland route of Pacific Highway was constructed between Los Angeles and Redding, California, which created the future central section of US 99. The third and final section had already been established. A small gravel road between the Mexican Border in the Imperial Valley linked to Los Angeles by the National Old Trails Road.
By the mid-1920's, the Pacific Highway and route to the Imperial Valley was completely paved by asphalt, concrete and to a small extent, gravel. Despite this, the federal government had been petitioned by many U.S. citizens to create a national system and provide better quality highways. In response, the American Association of State Highway Officials was formed in 1925 to create a national system. New highways were drawn from the old ones, but used numbers in place of names. After much revising and compromising, the final layout was completed.
On November 11, 1926, Congress approved the plan and gave birth to the U.S. Numbered Highway System. US 66 was one of these original highways. As for the Pacific Highway, the portion south of Davis, California became US 40 and US 101. A large portion of the National Old Trails Road between New Mexico and California became US 66. As for the inland Pacific Highway, it's northern section and the roads linking to the Imperial Valley, this became US 99. Due to the National Old Trails Highway already being US 66, the two highways shared the road between Los Angeles and San Bernardino.
The Beginning 1926-1940
At it's earliest, US 99 began at the Canadian Border in Blaine, Washington. From there, it headed south through Everett, Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia, Vancouver, Portland, Salem, Eugene, Sacramento, Stockton, Modesto, Fresno, Bakersfield, Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Indio before ending in El Centro, California. Unlike most other U.S. Highways, US 99 was mostly paved and improved, making it the most improved highway in the system. In 1928, road signs began being posted along the highway, finally introducing US 99 to the public.
Unfortunately, US 99 was a very windy route, which led to the deaths of many motorists. The small road was soon unable to handle massive interstate traffic. A 1928 flood, which destroyed much of the route north of Los Angeles only added to the problem. Thankfully, a new bridge was soon constructed. Despite this, many calls for improvement were left unanswered... that is until something bad happened. The world entered a horrible depression following the Stock Market Crash of 1929. In an effort to re-start the economy, the U.S. Government formed the Works Progress Administration, to build and improve structures nationwide. The highways were included in this.
While the WPA mostly focused on paving the dirt-road which was US 66, vast improvements were set in place for US 99. New giant bridges were constructed over large rivers, while the road was mostly straightened and widened, being able to handle interstate loads never seen before. Unfortunately, part of this project led a piece of the older route in California being flooded by the Shasta Dam. Today, this road is still underwater, lying on the seabed of Shasta Lake. The later US 99 across the Lake is now I-5.
In Seattle, Aurora Avenue was constructed and is still the fastest way to get downtown (Take that I-5!). The route was also split in half twice. Between Portland and Eugene and between Red Bluffs and Sacramento. This was to allow equal interstate traffic to cities which had not had US 99 earlier. Under the splits, the western halves were known as US 99W, while the eastern halves were known as US 99E. By 1938, US 99 was an up to date highway, which now ended at the Mexican border itself in Calexico.
To the travelling public, US 99 was used mostly by migrant workers coming in from the dust bowl, as most of the plantations and farms were located on US 99. John Steinbeck's novels, Of Mice and Men and Grapes of Wrath both take place along US 99 in northern California. By 1940, the economy was starting to revive. New industries were set up along US 99, including the new Boeing factories in Seattle.
US 99 At War (1941-1945)
During WWII, military convoys crisscrossed the nation's highways, delivering war materials to large cities and ports. Also during this time, the Boeing factory along US 99 began producing thousands of B-17s, one XC-97 and three B-29s. Every 45 minutes, traffic on US 99 would be halted as a B-17 rolled out of the factory and was towed across the highway to the airfield. Due to the war effort, there were less motorists, which created less of the problem. To add the the benefit, the existing motorists were lenient, knowing the B-17 stalls were to help destroy Hitler and Tojo.
Due to the Boeing effort, all the buildings and structures surrounding US 99 in this location were high-priority targets for the Japanese. To help stop this, the entire Boeing factory was disguised as a residential neighborhood. How effective this would have been can't be said. The Japanese may have known something was up just by seeing the B-17s parked right next to the "neighborhood". Thankfully, this never came to pass. Following armistice, the economy had skyrocketed out of the Great Depression and World War II. US 99 was now to see the best days of its life.
Golden Days (1945-1957)
During the new peacetime, US 99 was upgraded to a freeway and an "expressway" in many locations. Tourism along the route also increased to a large rate. New businesses and tourist traps opened up along US 99 anywhere from Blaine to Calexico. Central Oregon hosted the Oregon Vortex, a "gravity-defying house". Washington used a drive-though cedar stump, a giant teapot and a large pair of cowboy boots next to a cowboy hat. California introduced so many new buildings, not a single one can be mentioned over the other. Returning G.I.'s and Baby Boomers moved into new suburbs created along US 99's path, including several new resort locations along the Salton Sea. Farming had also increased in the San Joaquin Valley, where US 99 was most famous.
By the 1950's, everything was going great. US 99 had finally lived up to its original purpose and was the most popular highway traversing the west coast. Almost everyone used US 99 to go from Seattle to California. What could possibly go wrong? That was answered in 1956. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the new president of the United States, saw it time for a newer highway system; the National Interstate and Defense Highway System. This was a system with superhighways based off Germany's Autobahn system, designed to replace the older highways which were most heavily traveled, as well as to provide better means of military ground transport and emergency evacuations.
Due to its popularity, US 99 was selected as one of those highways to be "improved". Oregon began working around the clock to modernize US 99 to these new standards as did Washington and California. New sections even had to be constructed far from the originals to handle these new requirements. In 1957, a new number was given to the "improved" sections of US 99; Interstate 5. This was the beginning of the end.
The End (1957-1972)
By 1959, Interstate 5 had been well-established along many areas of US 99. Futhermore, the Salton Sea had become a cesspool filled with dead fish, killing the communities surrounding it. These communities are still ghost towns. In 1960, a bypassed segment of US 99 was flooded when Emigrant Lake was filled in around it. Like the Shasta Lake pieces, this part of US 99 is still underwater to this day. By 1961, US 99 was re-routed onto the I-5 freeway through Seattle, bypassing Aurora Avenue. This left Aurora to slowly become a haven for criminals and prostitutes, being filled with crumbling motels and restaurants.
1964 marked one of the biggest strikes against US 99. In signage, the highway was shortened to Los Angeles. By federal recognition, it only existed between Portland and Ashland in Oregon. Over these years, US 99 was co-signed with I-5 in Washington and California, but was kept separate in many locations in Oregon. In 1968, Washington and California removed the US 99 signs, leaving the highway to exist only in Oregon, the only state which still cared about it. The northern end was split between US 99W and US 99E in Portland, while the southern end remained as US 99 in Ashland. This sad existence was only for four years. In 1972, Oregon gave in and finally retired US 99, taking down the last of its shields. The great highway was no more.
To this day, old sections of US 99 are still being torn down and ripped apart. Despite being marked historic in California, it has yet to receive the same designation and attention in Oregon and Washington. When asked by highway lovers, Oregon seemed to be the only state willing to re-commission US 99 if such was to ever occur. I have been involved in trying to get this highway back to its former glory myself. I am currently in the process of writing a book about US 99 and hope to have it finished around 2016, the 90th anniversary of the highway's birth. The remnants of US 99 have helped nurture me as I grew up in Seattle, providing me a link to the Museum of Flight and beautiful views to Seattle's waterfront and Lake Union. I'm hoping through this "article", I can gather some more supporters of the old highway. To anyone who has put up with reading this, thank you for sticking through. It really means a lot to me.