By Tim Hunt
Celebrate 1-680 anniversary todayUploaded: 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 Highwaywas 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 knowledgeI 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.