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About this blog: I am a native of Alameda County, grew up in Pleasanton and currently live in the house I grew up in that is more than 100 years old. I spent 39 years in the daily newspaper business and wrote a column for more than 25 years in add...  (More)

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Celebrate 1-680 anniversary today

Uploaded: Jan 9, 2014

You might not realize it if you are a commuter on southbound Interstate 680 this morning, but you should be celebrating today.
It was 50 years that that the first stretch of Interstate 680 opened between Sunol and Mission San Jose over the Mission Pass. As I-680 grew north into Pleasanton and Dublin and then up the San Ramon Valley, it was the first true interstate highway in the valley.
Highway 50 (now I-580)—the Lincoln Highway—was rebuilt to interstate standards in the 1960s with bridges and full interchanges. Before that time, motorists had to stop, venture across the eastbound lanes, and stop again in the middle of the freeway and then merge into the westbound direction.
Needless to say, the two interstates have made a huge difference and opened the valley to both residential and business growth. A key factor when Joe Callahan and Prudential Insurance started to assemble the land that became Hacienda Business Park was the intersection of the interstates and the possibility of five interchanges serving the park.

Before the I-680 opened, travelers to Fremont or San Jose had to take Highway 21 (known by Danville Boulevard, Hartz Boulevard, San Ramon Valley Boulevard and Foothill Road now). For southbound traffic out of the San Ramon Valley, truckers and motorists alike took Highway 21 beyond Castlewood Drive and then crossed the Arroyo de la Laguna on the Verona Bridge. The bridge was closed for vehicular traffic years ago, but remains open as a pedestrian/bicyclist connection between Foothill and Sunol Boulevard.
I write some of this from first-hand knowledge—I live in the home I grew up in that is located south of Castlewood Drive on Foothill. I can remember my parents racing to make left turns into our driveway in a break between the 18-wheelers. Foothill became a country lane for much of the next 40 years until jobs exploded in the Silicon Valley and tech workers seeking family-friendly communities discovered the Tri-Valley.
Now days, Foothill is a country lane on weekends and a way-too-busy commute route during the afternoon rush. Hundreds of motorists are avoiding the three-way stop at Sunol/Niles Canyon and Highway 84 and instead taking the windy Foothill Road.
It makes you wonder what it will take before the county supervisors (Nate Miley now represents the area having taken it over from Scott Haggerty in the redistricting) ban right turns on Foothill during the afternoon commute. They took the action years ago during the morning commute so motorists could not get off at I-680 at Castlewood and then take Foothill to Niles Canyon. When deputies are enforcing the left-turn ban, it does not matter whether you are a resident as my wife has learned to her dismay.
That same prohibition needs to be established during the afternoon commute. The wider and straighter Sunol Boulevard is very under-utilized during the afternoon commute.
I am thankful to Jason Bezis, the newsletter editor for the Livermore Heritage Guild, who provided the tip and much of the information. He noted that the Sunol Grade is a historic transportation route and was the primary route between Mission San Jose and the Central Valley. Gold prospectors walked to the mines through Mission Pass after buying supplies in Mission San Jose.
For more than 20 years after the freeway opened, it was an easy commute to San Jose and the heart of the Silicon Valley. The late By Athan, San Ramon's first city attorney who later became a councilman and mayor, spent his first career as an attorney living in San Ramon and working in the Santa Clara County counsel's office. When we met for our occasional breakfast, we had talked about how easy that commute was during his career in the 1960s into the 1980s.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Bill, a resident of Pleasanton Heights,
on Jan 9, 2014 at 9:05 am

Not going to happen. Traffic planners need people to bypass the three way stop in Sunol to avoid even worse congestion.

Sorry things have changed Tim. They've changed for a lot of us. But I don't see traffic planners inconveniencing thousands so that you can live the life you used to have in the fifties.

You might try moving.

Posted by Tom, a resident of Castlewood,
on Jan 10, 2014 at 9:10 am

Bill's comments are harsh and not helpful. Just telling people to move is not solving a problem or contributing to a solution.

Foothill Road is not designed for high volume commuter traffic with it's multiple turns, narrow shoulders and ditches, blind driveways and, in spots, narrow road surfaces. Also, this road is heavily used by bicyclists and runners.

Using Foothill Road as an alternative to the tri-valley is not a good option. Having used both Foothill and Sunol roads, Sunol is a better option with its much wider road, shoulders and almost no usage, especially in the evening commute. Planners should implement changes to ensure that Sunol road becomes the commuter road of choice.

Posted by Bill2, a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows,
on Jan 10, 2014 at 5:19 pm

Good luck in getting politicans and CalTrans planners to do anything but screw things up worst. The anniversary is also 50 years of having to put up with the terribly designed 580/680 interchange. Only Tully Road/Hwy 101 tops this interchange as being totally disfunctional 24/7.

Posted by Sherry, a resident of Highland Oaks,
on Jan 11, 2014 at 7:48 pm

680 came south from Walnut Creek, ending at various points taking awhile for it to connect with 680 in Sunol. If I recall correctly, it opened from 580 south Labor Day weekend of 1968.

Posted by Charles, a resident of San Ramon,
on Jan 13, 2014 at 8:33 am

I could never understand why CalTrans constructed the flyover ramp from southbound 680 to eastbound 580 about 12 years ago. Although the clover-leaf connector for that segment was not the best, it seems like the biggest problem was (and still is) the westbound 580 connector to southbound 680. In my opinion, that is why westbound 580 is ALWAYS backed up no matter when you go through there. Makes you wonder how and who makes these decisions. Clearly the decisions are not based on making the greatest impact on reducing traffic. Gee, I wonder if politics ever plays into these decisions?? You think?

Posted by Ms. bunny, a resident of San Ramon,
on Jan 13, 2014 at 8:57 am

Very well said Tom. When I travel down that way, I do use Sunol (sometimes Foothill) and have to agree with you about the safety of it compared with Foothill. That said? I appreciate 680 and have for my 35 years of living in the valley, "warts and all" as they say. Sure, there's room for improvement as the valley has grown and I've witnessed and been a part of those efforts as well. Somehow? I think Bill equates progress with always having to rip something completely apart when in fact? Mitigating measures can very often effect the very change necessary with real thought and detailed planning. Some of us know, this isn't always the best solution.

Posted by Bill2, a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows,
on Jan 13, 2014 at 1:34 pm

Tim - your comments about what is better, Foothill or Pleasanton/Sunol Roads makes no sense to a hard core commuter. Foothill is by far the better option when traffic is backed up past the underpass for the Niles Canyon train tracks. When traffic gets this heavy, many commuters will take the Sunol exit, drive thru downtown Sunol and then re-enter Hwy 84 at the Sunol Glen School. This doubles or triples the waiting time to get to Pleasanton/Sunol Road. Bailing out at Foothill really lessens the time to drive to Pleasanton, regardless if the road is less than perfect. To ride a bicycle or jog on Foothill thru Sunol during commute time is signing a death wish.

Posted by 680 commuter, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood,
on Jan 14, 2014 at 9:08 am

The county needs to fix the stop sign at Sunol Rd/Niles Canyon. It can be done cheaply by adding a left turn lane from eastbound Niles Canyon to northbound Sunol Rd. This would double the traffic through the intersection during the evening commute, eliminating the bottleneck. Cars would no longer take Foothill because its faster and safer to take either Sunol or 84 than to take Foothill. Eventually, this will save some bicyclists life - it\'s only a matter of time before another is killed on Foothill.

Posted by Ms. bunny, a resident of San Ramon,
on Jan 15, 2014 at 8:44 am

GOOD point 680...It really has needed "doing" for some time to protect one and all, not just bicyclists. Kinda wonder WHY that isn't on their "list" of repairs already...

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