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Drive Time

A Less Traveled Road to Fame

July 10, 2002|MARY McNAMARA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Even for those who believe in an afterlife, it is difficult to imagine the circumstances under which Christopher Columbus, Rosa Parks and Sonny Bono would find themselves hanging around together. After discussing the obvious--thank God Cher's on tour again--what on Earth would they talk about? Well, perhaps their mutual ownership of Interstate 10.

At its West Coast point of origin, there is a sign announcing that the road most locals consider the Santa Monica Freeway is, indeed, the Christopher Columbus Transcontinental Highway. A few miles down the road, just past the 405 overpass, it becomes for nine miles the Rosa Parks Freeway. At the intersection with the Harbor Freeway, Santa Monica gives way to San Bernardino until it becomes the Redlands Freeway. At the Route 111 cutoff, a sign announces the Sonny Bono Memorial Freeway, which leads to another portion of road named for pioneering local doctor June McCarroll.

As the thoroughfare makes its way across the country, the transcontinental name-dropping could go on and on, but who has that kind of time? If you want your bit of Caltrans props, if you want your name seen by millions of motorists every year, then you'd better get the ear of some Sacramento politico right now because they're the ones who make these things happen and, frankly, the good freeways are going fast.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday July 12, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 8 inches; 307 words Type of Material: Correction
Rosa Parks--The Drive Time column in Wednesday's Southern California Living section incorrectly implied that Rosa Parks is dead. The 89-year-old civil rights icon lives in Detroit.

According to Daniel Faigin, a highway historian and master of www.cahighways.org, memorial freeways are a fairly new thing for the southern part of the state. Northern Californians have been naming routes after the lauded and the fallen since the 1950s, but it's only been in the last five or six years that the Southland has followed suit.

"Here, freeways have always been named for the end destination," says Faigin, whose Web site is so thorough that Caltrans officials recommend it. "The trend by state legislators to name these tiny segments for people is pretty new."

The Rosa Parks Freeway was, in fact, inaugurated just this February after being introduced into legislation last year by Assemblyman Herb Wesson (D-Culver City), now speaker of the lower house. Along with neighboring Sonny Bono, and, of course, former President Reagan, hers is perhaps the most well-known moniker on a memorial freeway. The majority of names that flash by belong to outstanding local leaders and to police officers who died too young. So if you're wondering--as I was--how one goes about getting a route of one's own, well, unfortunately, the first step is death.

Which seems to me a real waste. The decade-old adopt-a-highway program allows the living a little drive-by attention in exchange for keeping a portion of the roadside tidy; perhaps Caltrans could solve some of its unending fiscal and community-activist woes by combining the two programs. Just as they do with museums and zoos and cathedrals, individuals or corporations could pay for highway extensions or improvements in exchange for their own personal bit of freeway.

Imagine the possibilities. Your name looked to with the gratitude of thousands of commuters each day as they sail through the finally re-engineered Harbor/Golden State exchange or the newly widened 101 South from Woodland Hills. Dollars to doughnuts the 710 would be cruising through South Pasadena right now if the state had offered to name the new extension after top citizens. And this doesn't have to be confined to freeways; surface streets could benefit as well. Mayor Jim Hahn has boasted for months about the increased number of left-hand-turn signals he has bestowed upon this city; imagine how many more would be making your life easier right now if, say, 3rd Street between La Brea and Fairfax could be named after some generous benefactor.

If the state worked the room right, the real stars would no longer be immortalized in the sidewalk along Hollywood Boulevard, but on green signs at five-mile increments along the Hollywood Freeway.

Mary McNamara can be reached at mary.mcnamara@latimes.com.

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