Jacob Dekema, Who Connected California with Freeways, Dies

Jacob Dekema, a former Caltrans director who reshaped Southern California by building hundreds of miles of freeways, has died at 101.

The Los Angeles Times reported Monday that Dekema died April 16 from natural causes at an assisted living facility in San Diego.

He was known as "Mr. Caltrans" for the role he had in constructing the region's intricate network of highways and connectors -- an accomplishment often cited as helping inspire the nation's interstate-highway system, according to the newspaper.

Dekema's legacy is particularly visible in San Diego County, which had 25 miles of freeway when he arrived in 1955. By the time he retired a quarter of a century later, there were 485 miles of interstate.

"He was an iconic figure in the San Diego region, and much of San Diego's transportation history bears his fingerprints," said Laurie Berman, the current district director for Caltrans in San Diego. "He was a one-of-a-kind."

In 1982, Interstate 805 in San Diego was named the Jacob Dekema Freeway.

During his years as director of Caltrans District 11, which then encompassed San Diego, Imperial and portions of Riverside counties, Dekema endured critics who said he constructed too many freeways, along with those who said he wasn't moving fast enough.

His daughter, Pamela Dekema, remembered a news photo showing her father being hanged in effigy by community members affected by a highway project.

"I think he had a remarkable attitude considering what he must have faced," she said. "I didn't perceiving him as being stressed when he came home. He was a very patient person."

Besides his daughter, Dekema is survived by his wife, Shirley; a son, Douglas Dekema; a granddaughter and two great-grandchildren.

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