Caltrans manages more than 50,000 miles of California's highway and freeway lanes, provides inter-city rail services, permits more than 400 public-use airports and special-use hospital heliports, and works with local agencies. Caltrans carries out its mission of improving mobility across California with six primary programs: Aeronautics, Highway Transportation, Mass Transportation, Transportation Planning, Administration and the Equipment Service Center.
The department has been active in moving the people and commerce of California for more than 100 years from a loosely connected web of footpaths and rutted wagon routes to the sophisticated system that today serves the transportation needs of more than 30 million residents.
By the early 1850s, the state's miners and merchants had succeeded in weaving a dusty network of supply roads that bogged down into near impassability during the winter rains. However, by the turn of the century, California became one of the first states to name a Bureau of Highways Commission: R.C. Irvine of Sacramento, Marsden Manson of San Francisco and J.L. Maude of Riverside.
Meeting for the first time on April 11, 1895, in Sacramento, the three men began the first few steps in a buckboard journey that would take them over some 16,500 miles of roadways. A year and a half later, the three men recommended a 14,000-mile network that would become the basis for today's State Highway System.
That system was scaled down in 1916 to a network of 5560 miles. However, it included two of California's best-known routes, U.S. Routes 99 and 101, for many years the major north-south axes of California.