Lawmakers Refuse to Surrender Right to Name Highways

Saying it was an abdication of legislative authority, the Assembly Transportation Committee rejected a bill April 9 that would have prevented lawmakers from naming highways, bridges, overpasses and interchanges.

Such signs — which are erected at no cost to taxpayers — have sprouted across California for decades. The ability to create them offers lawmakers a visible way to honor former colleagues, memorialize dead law enforcement officers, salute veterans or showcase a community or place of historic or tourist interest within their districts.

The measure would have given sole naming power to the California Transportation Commission, who critics of the bill said was already burdened with lengthy agendas and weightier policy decisions.

The Nimitz Freeway -- Interstate 880 near Oakland -- named after World War Admiral Chester Nimitz

“(The commission) is the proper place where this belongs so we can concentrate on areas of greater concern,” said Assemblyman Chris Norby, a Fullerton Republican, who has tried previously to at least temporarily halt the Legislature’s ability to name parts of the state’s transportation system. The same committee torpedoed that legislation.

Norby contends the number of naming resolutions are “proliferating” and approval of them becoming “increasingly chaotic.”

Despite statements by even opponents of Norby’s bill that order had to be brought to the willy-nilly passing of such resolutions, two were on the committee’s agenda.

One by the committee’s chair, Democratic Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal of Long Beach, would create the Mark Bixby Memorial Bicycle Pedestrian Path, the Ohlone Costanoan Highway, the Oceanside Police Officer Daniel S. Bessant Memorial Highway, the Los Angeles Police Officer Ian J. Campbell Memorial Highway and the Officer Ryan Stringer Memorial Highway.  

Lowenthal has advocated greater consolidation of naming requests, placing more names in fewer resolutions to make the process more efficient.

Naming resolutions already are on the committee’s consent calendar, which contains routine issues that are normally voted on without debate.

The other resolution would create the California Highway Patrol Officer Brett J. Oswald Memorial Interchanges at the eastbound and westbound interchanges at Highway 101 and Highway 46 in Paso Robles – a city contained in the district of Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian, a San Luis Obispo Republican who also authored the resolution.

Achadjian said he couldn’t support his GOP colleague’s measure because it contained no venue for appeal if the transportation commission rejected someone’s naming requests.

Assemblyman Mike Eng, a Monterey Park Democrat, also opposed Norby’s bill asking if Norby had determined if the transportation commission wanted the new responsibility.

He hadn’t made inquiry, Norby admitted.

“Whether they would like extra work, most of us probably would not,” Norby allowed.

Assemblyman Kevin Jeffries, a Riverside Republican, supported Norby’s bill – as did Lowenthal. Jeffries noted that the cost of simply acting on the resolutions warranted a change in policy.

“Spending $15,000 to $20,000 — $25,000 – to do a naming, just (counting) the legislative process, is not good government.”

Norby’s bill failed on a 9 to 3 vote, the third “aye” vote being his own.  

The signs themselves don’t cost the state money – the expense must be borne by private sources. It costs between $800 to $1,200 per sign, Caltrans estimates. One is needed for each direction.

 In January 2011, Caltrans issued a 236-page report called 2010 Named Freeways, Highways, Structures and Other Appurtenances in California, cataloguing some 700 named highways, rest areas, bridges, freeways, tunnels, interchanges and memorial plaques.

The tome reveals that far more parts of the highway system are named after places, persons and things than former lawmakers.

Concerns over naming aren’t new.

In 1962, the state Senate called for a study on the naming of parts of the transportation system.

The report led lawmakers the following year to place a moratorium on new namings until further review.

Caltrans was asked to update the report in 1967. It recommended future names embrace geographic and historical features, not be memorials.

Authority for future naming should be placed in the hands of one entity, the revised report said:

The California Transportation Commission, then called the Highway Commission.






  1. Norby is wrongheaded here. If naming rights are banned, what oh what will the Leg do to which they can later point with pride? They’r already really good at viewing much stuff with alarm.

    Comment by lotuslover — 4.09.2012 @ 9:50 pm

  2. Does anyone remember the retired state Senator who asked for a freeway to named after him and the resolution died on the Senate floor?

    Comment by oldman — 4.09.2012 @ 10:22 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment