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As It Was: Oregon Readies Roads for Anticipated Tourists

West Coast states struggled to ready their roads for anticipated heavy tourist traffic when motorists around the country would flock to the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco.

The biggest project was the Pacific Highway that later became U.S. Highway 99, stretching 1,687 miles from the Canadian border through the Siskiyou Mountains of Northern California. Interstate 5 follows the same basic route today. A national magazine of motoring, titled “Motor,” called the route “the great and coming West Coast boulevard.”

Two years before the San Francisco Exposition opened, Motor magazine said Oregon was “the slowest of the three” Pacific Coast states to get its roads in shape, and Douglas County’s roads were the worst. It reported, “Only a few miles, near the city of Roseburg, can be called a good road … The best completed portion of the highway is in Jackson County across the Rogue River Valley…”

The magazine recognized Oregon was “handicapped” by the combination of great distances of its section of the highway, the large number of bridges to be built and the small number of people to be taxed.

The Pacific Highway was improved considerably by the time the Exposition opened in 1915.

Sources: Stovall, Dennis H. "Oregon Begins Highway Building." Motor, The National Magazine of Motoring Nov. 1913: 94. Web. 13 May 2015; National Park Service. National Park Service, Department of the Interior, 13 May 2015. Web. 13 May 2015. <http://www.nps.gov/prsf/learn/historyculture/1915-panama-pacific-international-exposition.htm>.

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Kernan Turner is the Southern Oregon Historical Society’s volunteer editor and coordinator of the As It Was series broadcast daily by Jefferson Public Radio. A University of Oregon journalism graduate, Turner was a reporter for the Coos Bay World and managing editor of the Democrat-Herald in Albany before joining the Associated Press in Portland in 1967. Turner spent 35 years with the AP before retiring in Ashland.