Orange County Branch Newsletter

November 2015

History and Heritage

A Continuation: Recollections of Orange County’s Ebb and Flow of Infrastructure Development

By Carl Nelson, PE (retired)
Photo credits: USGS, OC Archives, Google Earth

The following headline and full page from the OC Register on October 3, 2015, sparked this little story:

“ZOT Nation Turns 50”

In 1960, the same year I started work with the Orange County Flood Control District, the Irvine Company sold 1,000 acres to the University of California for establishment of the new UCI campus. At the time, there were no infrastructure facilities available to serve the proposed campus. What was needed prior to the 1964 campus groundbreaking and President Lyndon B. Johnson’s campus dedication? Quite importantly, the property had no public roads access, although the University property was not far from MacArthur Blvd. a two lane state highway running from Corona del Mar to Santa Ana.

USGS Quad Sheet Prior to UCI Acquisition in 1960
The County Road Department’s Master Plan of Arterial Highways showed a future road paralleling San Diego Creek and running from Mac Arthur easterly into Irvine Ranch. Following the Board of Supervisors’ authorization, road design commenced and the road was quickly renamed “University Drive”. However, the vertical alignment of the proposed road would be impacted by the Irvine Ranch Conservation Dam shown in the USGS map above. Further, if and when the conservation dam were to be removed, the roadway embankment would be subject to the meandering, erodible banks of San Diego Creek.
Composite Aerial Photo Illustrates Undeveloped Ranchland- circa 1960
Apparently with the cooperation of the Irvine Ranch, a combined road and flood control project evolved. Back in 1956 the voters of the county had approved a countywide flood control bond issue which included funds for the widening and deepening of San Diego Creek beginning at Upper Newport Bay and integrating the conservation dam as a flood retarding basin. However, the cooperative flood /road project that emerged called for the removal of the dam, construction of a deepened realigned flood channel within a 105 feet right of way and affording a lower profile for University Drive. The expedited flood channel work and the two-lane University Drive intersection with Mac Arthur Boulevard were completed in time for the 1964 University groundbreaking.
Soon thereafter, the Road Department also constructed a new Campus Drive connection to University Drive from Jamboree Road as shown in the following Google Earth (2015) photo. The photo also illustrates the Irvine Ranch Water District’s eventual conversion of the former conservation reservoir land into a wildlife sanctuary and wetlands water treatment operation as part of their adjacent Michelson Water Recycling plant.
Aerial View - Campus Drive Crossing of San Diego Creek & University Drive Intersection
View from Campus Drive Bridge, left to right: San Diego Creek + OCFCD Bikeway + University Drive
Members who are interested in learning more about the Irvine Ranch may want to visit History & Heritage link History of Water Resources Development on the Irvine Ranch.

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