Politics put I-5 through Yreka

Politics put I-5 through Yreka

Rushing home from California, you take a peek in the rearview mirror as you climb out of Shasta Valley and ask yourself, "Why did I have to go around those other hills?"

Flying along at 70 mph, just north of Yreka, it's obvious your escape from the Golden State would have been a whole lot quicker if Interstate 5 had run on the east side of those hills behind you, straight across that gently rolling plain instead of taking a big bend to the west.

Surprise. That's exactly how federal highway engineers had originally drawn it. So, what happened?


Although the interstate was a federal project, the California Highway Commission had the final say in where the freeway would go, and in the early 1960s, no one in California had more to say about that than state Sen. Randolph Collier.

Colleagues said Collier, who was chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee for 22 years, ruled with an iron hand.

"Randy was an interesting guy," former state Sen. Frederick Farr told an interviewer in 1987. "He ran the Senate Transportation Committee. There was no roll call vote in the committee; there would be a voice vote, but no tally vote. You'd ask for a roll call, and he'd say, 'I'm sorry, the bill's out.' He absolutely ran the committee."

Collier gained statewide and national fame by planning and financing highways. It began in 1947 when he wrote the Collier-Burns Act, which created California's highway network and earned him a string of honorary titles, including "Father of the Freeways," "Sage of the Siskiyous" and "Mr. California Highway."

Born in Etna in 1902, Collier grew up in Yreka. After graduating from the University of California, Berkeley, he returned to the town, eventually taking over the family business, the largest title company in Siskiyou County.

He began his political career as Yreka's police judge, a position he held for 13 years until 1938, when he was elected California senator. For 37 years he was the representative for six Northern California counties.

Legend had it that Collier knew the name of every voter in his district and, using his governmental power and political clout, he made sure to take care of "his" people and ensure his re-election.

In 1963, when the government proposed to bypass Yreka by routing I-5 directly from Grenada to Hornbrook, Collier went to work.

By the end of the year, the planned length of the freeway had increased nearly two miles, with the route swerving to the west and passing through Collier's hometown of Yreka before turning back east, adding an additional $7 million to the $28 million project.

Until his death in 1983, Collier's opponents whispered under their breath, calling his freeway diversion "Collier Curve," "Politician Hill" and the "Randolph Collier Monument."

Actually, California has a number of monuments to Collier, including the I-5 rest area named for him along the Klamath River and the Randolph Collier Tunnel on Highway 199 between Cave Junction and the Pacific Coast. Yreka's monument to its hero is a life-size statue of the senator sitting on a park bench near the Siskiyou County Courthouse.

Writer Bill Miller lives in Shady Cove. Reach him at

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