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“A highway runs through it”

“Inside the push to tear down an Oakland freeway”

By Nathanael Johnson, Grist, April 17, 2019

“ ‘Matt Nichols, Oakland’s transportation director, gazed down at I-980, which runs between downtown Oakland and the historically black neighborhood of West Oakland.

“Five lanes of traffic howled below at 70 miles per hour. Throughout the 1970s, Nichols’ predecessors had argued that Oakland needed to build this freeway to thrive. But when Nichols looks at it, he sees desolation.

“Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf thinks I-980 ‘remains a scar on our urban fabric. In its place we want livable infrastructure that creates local economic opportunity, reconnects neighborhoods, and connects the region.’ So the city government has made the freeway’s removal a part of its plan for a growing downtown Oakland.

Aerial view of Oakland, California, looking east-southeast. Interstate 580 is on the left, I-980 is at the bottom, and I-880 is at the right. Photo: Dcoetzee,

“Nichols, Oakland’s now-former transportation director (he retired earlier this year), told me [the freeway] was flawed from the start. First planned as a ‘racist moat-building exercise,’ then as a connection to a never-constructed bridge to San Francisco, and finally as a driveway to a shopping center that also was never built, it now carries less traffic than some of Oakland’s surface streets. To him, its existence seems ludicrous. ‘Why, why did anyone build that?’ he said.

“What, realistically, will happen to I-980?, a small organization dedicated to envisioning a neighborhood free of I-980, provided a vision. Mayor Schaaf provided the official sanction for ripping it out. Next, Oakland will need engineers to figure out what different options would cost, and facilitators to organize more conversations with residents about the best use of this land. Oakland’s city government won’t do that itself, Nichols said: The staff is stretched thin just trying to pave pothole-ridden streets. But he thinks MTC has the bandwidth to move the project forward.

“The I-980 teardown could become part of a regional push to relieve traffic congestion by building a second subway tunnel to San Francisco beneath the bay. The underwater tube trains currently traverse is like a two-lane road — with one lane seemingly always being repaired. The trains are crowded with passengers, and the bridges are even more crowded with cars. The system, according to [an MTC] study, is ‘bursting at the seams,’ and almost certainly requires another crossing.”

This is an excerpt. Read the full article here (3500 words).

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