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580/680 interchange changed valley forever

Uploaded: Oct 31, 2017
Fifty years ago this month, the key freeway link for the Tri-Valley was completed when Interstate 680 opened between Pleasanton and Mission San Jose.

The I-680/I-580 interchange opened with its original cloverleaf configuration in December 1965, but it wasn’t until 1967 that the final stretch opened to traffic. That was back in the day of Gov. Jerry Brown’s dad, Gov. Pat Brown, who was a driving force in building California (the State Water Project, the freeway system and the state higher education plan all were during his tenure).

In those times, Caltrans built freeways instead of spending gobs of money on environmental and other reports.

The I-680 link from Solano County to the South Bay, like other portions of the outer ring around the Bay (I-280), were completed well before there was demand.

For decades, until Silicon Valley exploded with job growth, it was an easy commute from the valley. The late San Ramon Mayor and City Attorney, By Athan, lived in San Ramon throughout his 25-year career as county counsel for Santa Clara County. It was about a 30-minute drive from his home to his downtown San Jose office.

It’s hard to imagine that today, but remember how empty I-680 was in the early 2000s after the dot.com bubble burst or in 2009-2010 after the Great Recession. Earlier this summer, Blue Oaks Church administrator Joe Hartley shared how he could tell the state of the economy by how long it took him to commute from his Pleasanton home to his office in Menlo Park at Sun Microsystems where the Facebook headquarters are today.

In the days prior to I-680, Foothill Road was Highway 21, the main route from Walnut Creek to San Jose. In today’s parlance, that includes Foothill, San Ramon Valley Boulevard and Danville Boulevard. Tractor-trailer rigs, hauling aggregate would take Foothill south to the now pedestrian-only Verona Bridge where they would cross over to Sunol Boulevard and head for Niles Canyon.

Growing up living on Foothill Road when it carried major truck traffic, it could be an adventure to safely make a left turn into our driveway with trucks bearing down at a much higher speed limit than the 45 mph that exists today.

Longtime residents also will remember Highway 50, the Lincoln Highway, that was replaced by I-580. The highway was two lanes in each direction with a large median and no overcrossings. You crossed into the median and then merged into traffic.

In an article for the Livermore Heritage Guild, Jason Bezis wrote, “...it was arguably the Tri-Valley’s watershed event of the 20th century. The 580/680 junction shifted in the axis of regional economic activity from the 19th century railroad corridor nodes (downtown Livermore and Pleasanton) to the new freeways. Retail activity in Livermore, for example, has taken a half-century to catch up.” Thanks for Jason for suggesting this column and sharing his material.

The freeway intersection was a key factor in the Taubman Company’s decision to build Stoneridge Shopping Center in Pleasanton and was a critical factor in locating Hacienda Business Park (co-developed by Joe Callahan of Callahan Properties and the Prudential Insurance Company). Before those decisions, Volkswagen had located a distribution center in Pleasanton that is now ClubSport.

The freeway access and the Alameda County’s interest in sales tax revenue from retailers also sparked the big-box shopping centers in the heart of Dublin. When the city incorporated in 1982, sales tax revenues were $235 million ($17,400 per capita) compared to $194 million Pleasanton ($5,500 per capita) and $170 million in Livermore ($3,500 per capita). It took Livermore until 1994 to pass Dublin in total sales tax, while Livermore eclipsed Pleasanton in 2013 for the first time since the mall opened.

Jason pointed out that the population soared from 29,587 people in Eastern Alameda County (Dublin, Pleasanton, Livermore and the unincorporated area) in 1960 to 202,117 in 2010.

Today, the freeways are both a blessing and a curse. They have driven freeway-oriented retail development and major car dealerships in all three cities. In a couple of years, Pleasanton will have its own Costco along I-680 on Johnson Drive. Dublin is still studying an IKEA store proposed for I-580 at Hacienda Drive.

I-580 is the commerce corridor handling a huge number of 18-wheelers hauling containers from the Port of Oakland, as well as tractor-trailer rigs delivering products from San Joaquin County warehouses to retail locations throughout the Bay Area. With the lack of affordable housing or homes in general, it has steadily grown as the commuter gateway to the Bay Area.

Sadly, there’s no silver bullet out there for reducing congestion, although an alternative way to move containers inland would be a major improvement.
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