music in the park san jose

It’s the


– that notorious Highway 152/156 intersection frequently fussed
about by frustrated folks. I bet Don Francisco Perez Pacheco would
be amazed how the junction bearing his name could cause such a
It’s the “Y” – that notorious Highway 152/156 intersection frequently fussed about by frustrated folks. I bet Don Francisco Perez Pacheco would be amazed how the junction bearing his name could cause such a commotion.

Last week, representatives of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger met with local leaders and citizens at Casa de Fruta to discuss building a flyover at the Don Pacheco Y. This perilous junction point has caused many a traffic backup in recent years – and many a life lost.

Like countless travelers, I’ve found myself caught in the traffic trap of the Y during trips to the Central Valley. And like other travelers, I’ve found myself gritting my teeth as my wheels slowly inch forward at a tortoise tempo. After a couple of hours of stop-and-go through mile after winding mile of tanned grassland, I make it by the Y bottleneck and sigh with relief as my speedometer needle climbs. I’ll confess that needle has rocketed well past the posted speed limit as I accelerate to make up for lost time.

But Pacheco Pass wasn’t always a headache. There was a time when it provided a much more leisurely traveler’s crossing. Starting perhaps 10,000 years ago, the original immigrants to California – the Native Americans – first ventured across the scenic mountain pass to discover the coastal range of our South Valley region. For thousands of years, indigenous people such as the Ohlones used the pass as a major commerce route for their extensive tribal trading network.

Starting in the 1770s when the Spanish began colonizing Alta California, many Native Americans used the mountain pass as their escape to freedom from the brutal conditions of California’s missions – such as the one at San Juan Bautista.

Europeans didn’t truly discover the pass until 1805 when Spanish explorer Lt. Gabriel Moraga led a military expedition from the San Francisco Presidio. He became the first white man to cut across it to scout out the San Jouquin Valley beyond.

After Spanish rule ended and the Mexican era began, Don Francisco Pacheco became one of the wealthiest land owners of old California. Born in 1790 in Guadalajara, Mexico, he arrived in Monterey as a poor wagon maker. Through hard work, his rancho real estate eventually extended from Gilroy to San Juan Bautista to parts of the pass. People began calling the pass “Pacheco” after him.

The discovery of California’s gold in 1848 brought more traffic to Pacheco Pass as coastal Californians made their way across it to the promise of instant riches in the Sierras. Travelers grew so numerous that in 1856, San Joaquin Valley pioneer Andrew David Firebaugh built a toll road. It was used primarily by stagecoaches carrying passengers and overland mail. Firebaugh’s toll house stood at the summit.

In the 1860s, plans were discussed to extend the transcontinental railroad through the pass to eventually end in Monterey and San Francisco. Officials, however, chose to fix the terminus in Sacramento. That decision left Pacheco Pass free of train tracks.

By 1878, Firebaugh abandoned his road. That year, Santa Clara County and Merced County built a graded dirt county road that wound through Pacheco Pass’s pasture lands. Travelers forsook the county road in 1923 when the state opened up the newly completed Highway 152. This asphalt ribbon made it easy for automobiles to cut through the coastal range.

The highway played a role in my own family’s history. Some summers, my father as a boy would travel it with aunts and cousins to pick fruit in San Benito County’s orchards. Dad often described how pleasant it was to flee San Joaquin Valley’s intense heat for the cool coastal breezes on the western side of the pass. It prompted him to move to Hollister shortly after World War II.

After California’s population started booming in the 1950s, Pacheco Pass’s traffic steadily increased. So did traffic speeds. And so did the accidents and death count. By the 1970s, truckers began calling the pass “Blood Alley” and “The Ho Chi Minh Trail” because of its notoriously risky reputation. Among the famous fatalities are the elderly heirs to the Gallo Winery fortune. George Dexter, the designer of McDonald’s “golden arches” restaurant symbol also died in a traffic accident here. As the death count rose, everyone knew something must be done to make the road safer.

In February 1984, workers finished widening the pass from the summit to Bell Station. The cost: $6.5 million. The second phase from Bell Station to the Casa de Fruta resort was completed in February 1992 at a price tag of $17 million. That year, about 20,000 vehicles rocketed through the pass on busy days.

A decade later, with the boom of Silicon Valley and commuters buying homes in Los Banos, Pacheco Pass saw more than 30,000 vehicles a day. Unfortunately, as its traffic congestion gets worse, Pacheco Pass faces a serious clogging of its artery. And the dangerous Don Pacheco Y is the crucial point of this asphalt arteriosclerosis.

A bit of bypass surgery must be performed before the problem grows worse and more lives are lost. At a cost of about $32 million, the Don Pacheco Y flyover is a vital project our federal, state and local leaders must make a legislative imperative.

South Valley resident Chuck Myer once wrote a thesis called “Pacheco Past: A History of the Gateway to Santa Clara County.” In it, he describes its importance as a coastal range corridor for Native Americans, the Spanish, the Mexicans, the Forty-Niners, the cowboys, the truckers and for the modern-day commuters.

“The history of Pacheco Pass is the history of California,” he wrote. For the last 10,000 years, the pass has served as the major transportation artery between California’s Central Valley and the South Valley. As for Pacheco Pass’s future, hopefully that will involve clearing the clog at the Don Pacheco Y. For the safety and convenience of travelers, the flyover’s construction must begin as soon as possible.

Pacheco Pass’s namesake, I’m sure, would most certainly agree.

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