Caltrans at 50: District 9

The origins of the California Department of Transportation can be traced back to 1895 when Governor James Budd signed into law the establishment of the Bureau of Highways. The agency got its first name change in 1896 when it rebranded as the Department of Highways. Initially an independent entity, the Department of Highways was brought under the Department of Engineering in 1907. Five years later, the department would establish the first seven administrative divisions. Kern, Inyo, and Mono counties were part of the Fresno Division until 1921 when Inyo and Mono counties became part of a new division based out of Bishop. In 1972, Governor Ronald Reagan signed AB 69, establishing Caltrans as an independent agency. On July 1, 1973, the new Caltrans name went into effect, and the agency has stuck with it ever since.

No matter what we're called, the Department of Transportation has served the people of California for more than 100 years. Today, there are 12 Caltrans Districts, including Caltrans District 9, which serves Inyo, Mono, and Eastern Kern counties. As we look back at 50 years of Caltrans, we've highlighted a few of the biggest projects and events District 9 has seen over the past five decades.

Click here to learn more about the long history of Caltrans and the California Department of Transportation, starting way back in the 1890s.

Nineteen ninety-six photograph of the flooding of Walker River taken from a helicopter.

Walker River Flood

In January 1997, roughly 10 miles of U.S. 395 in Walker Canyon was ripped apart by historic flooding of the West Walker River. The raging waters of the river tore apart the pavement and reshaped the river base along the highway, cutting off this vital transportation route. Caltrans issued two emergency repair contracts the very next month, one for the highway and one for the river habitat. Construction on both contracts ran concurrently and the highway reopened in June 1997.

Walker River Flood Gallery

Map highlighting the completion dates of different projects within the Corridor Development Project.

US 395-State Route 14 Corridor Project

The U.S. 395/State Route 14 Corridor Development Project was conceived to upgrade and develop most of U.S. 395 in Inyo and Mono counties, and all of State Route 14 in Kern County, from two-lane to four-lane facilities. The first segment of the overall corridor project to be completed was the 1955 Project, which expanded U.S. 395 to four lanes between Sherwin Grade and Sherwin Summit. Freeman Gulch - Segment 1 was the most recent project in this corridor plan, with construction completed in 2018.

Corridor Project Gallery

A photograph of the completed High Point Curve Correction Project from Topaz Lake.

High Point Curve Correction Project

The High Point Curve Correction Project in Mono County improved safety on U.S. 395 along Topaz Lake by realigning horizontal and vertical curves, reducing rockfall, and installing two new retaining walls. The project went into construction in May of 2012 and was completed by the following October.

High Point Gallery

Multiple vehicles stuck in the mudslide on State Route 58 in October, 2015.

State Route 58 Mudslide

On October 15, 2015, eastern Kern County experienced a 1,000 year storm that triggered flash floods and a massive mudslide on State Route 58 east of Tehachapi. The mudslide, which occurred at 6:07 pm, stretched for 1.5 miles and buried the highway under five to six feet of mud. More than 100 vehicles were stuck in the slide, including 78 passenger vehicles, 36 commercial trucks, and two busses. All travelers were safely removed from their vehicles and relocated to emergency shelters. Caltrans began removing the mud from the highway that night, and over the next six days would remove approximately 75,000 cubic yards of mud and soil from the roadway and shoulders. Thanks to the tireless effort of everyone involved in the clean-up process, the highway was able to reopen at 8:00 pm on October 21, 2015.

State Route 58 Mudslide Gallery