Interstate 980 is a huge convenience for drivers. I appreciate it every time I drive around town. But its construction was a major injury to Oakland’s neighborhood fabric, splitting West Oakland from downtown harshly and irrevocably. Every time I walk over 980, as here on the 14th Street overcrossing, I ask, Did they really need to hack out all this space for the freeway? Farther north, where the road becomes route 24, it’s narrower and they left a fringe of homes on Martin Luther King bordering the highway. But on 980, the excavation took out a full city block between Castro and Brush streets.
Maybe the difference was the sand. I-980 is built in the Merritt Sand, which underlies downtown and West Oakland up as far as Grand Avenue. The ancient dune sands probably can’t sustain a steep slope on the sides of the freeway. And the builders had to dig deep to make room for the overcrossings—most of the other freeways are not below grade. A narrower roadway, with tall vertical soundwalls on either side (like the new part of the Nimitz farther west in Bay mud), would not be as safe during earthquake shaking, and without room for the vegetation it would be a dreary place indeed. Bad as it is, it could have been worse.