Remember This?

New I-80 safety feature: Center dividers

Life-saving measure was an innovation in 1973
By: Gus Thomson, Reporter/Columnist
-A +A

Journal Archives photo

This photo by the Journal’s John Trumbo shows work nearing completion on a center divider along Interstate 80 north of Auburn.

They’re part of the Interstate 80 landscape now.

But in 1973, center dividers were a novel innovation along the freeway.

The Auburn Journal’s John Trumbo visited the Caltrans worksite that fall to describe to readers a process that was new to the area and designed to save lives by keeping out-of-control autos from crossing over into oncoming traffic.

Today’s “Remember This?” photo was shot by Trumbo in early November, with clear skies allowing an unnamed worker to finish off the top of the barrier while supervisor Don Ohman looked on.

Earlier a barrier-making machine had inched along the middle of the busy highway forming a ribbon of center divider as it received truckload after truckload of cement. One truckload was good for 15 feet of barrier and the machine could produce as much as 1,000 feet a day in cookie-cutter fashion.

Behind the controls was one Neil “Shorty” Milam, a legend in road construction. Six years earlier, Milam claimed the crown as the first to lay a mile of pavement in a day. He also had bragging rights as the first to produce two miles of 24-foot wide roadway in a day.


First of its kind

Milam was operating a machine that cost $55,000. It was manufactured in Iowa by a company named Gomaco and was the first of its kind used in California. Gomaco, based in Ida Grove, remains a major player in road construction tech to this day.  

The barrier was installed on a 4.6-mile stretch of freeway between Clipper Gap and Heather Glen overcrossing. The center divider then was 32 inches high.

Today’s barriers are 10 inches taller than the ones installed 46 years ago. That not only provides a higher degree of safety but also blocks headlight glare from oncoming traffic.

“Remember This?” and Gus Thomson can be reached at or 530-852-0232. Thomson is a state and national award-winning reporter who writes for the Auburn Journal.