Interstate 280 revisited (Route A/B)

I recently got a copy of the Paul Haddads book "Freewaytopia: How Freeways Shaped Los Angeles". It's a fascinating look into freeways that were or were not built and also how they shaped or destroyed neighborhoods. That stoked my interest into our local Bay Area freeways and debates around where and why they were built.


Like any big infrastructure project, I-280 was built in phases. The San Francisco half and the San Jose half were started first and they eventually met in the middle. Back in March 1957, planning began for the routing of I-280 through the communities of Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Palo Alto, Stanford, Portola and Woodside. Long touted as the most beautiful and scenic freeways in the States, it is hard to imagine any other route through the western side of the peninsula than it currently does. One routing would have had it follow the Southern Pacific Railroad right of way (currently turned into Foothill Expressway), through the downtown of Los Altos, bisecting the Stanford golf course and cutting a path through the ritzy enclave of Atherton. Just as surprising, another alternative would have curved westward from Arastradero Road towards the rural communities of Portola Valley and Woodside.

Alternative Routing for Highway 280 in 1957
Alternative Routing for Highway 280 in 1957

On this copy of map by civil engineer Channing W. Cathcart of Los Altos Hills, possible interchanges are marked by circles. On top route they would be on Woodside Road, Sand Hill near Santa Cruz Avenue, Junipero Serra and Page Mill Road, Arastradero Road at the railroad tracks, and El Monte Avenue at the tracks. Middle freeway would have interchange at Sand Hill and Walsh roads, Arastradero and Page Mill. All would have interchange at Simla Junction.

Simla Junction was the railroad location that is at present day Homestead Road and Foothill Expressway. In a future post I'll dive into the history of the railroad route and what might have been if it had been saved.


Railroad tracks through Los Altos (Route A for Hwy 280)

Loyola Corners Depot in Los Altos (Route A/B for Hwy 280)

Downtown Los Altos Train Depot in 1950s. Present day this would be Foothill Expressway and could have been part of I-280.

The Palo Alto Times article was just the beginning of the contentious negotiations on the routing of the Junipero Serra Highway (I-280).


Los Altos Hills Councilman John Fowle, chairman of his city's freeway committee, says Palo Alto favors the top route (closest to El Camino Real) to help carry an estimated 17,000 autos to and from the Stanford Industrial Park. Los Altos Hills also favors the route,but for a different reason. The two lower freeways would cut through the town. Stanford University and neighboring Los Altos, however, don't want the freeway to run along the Southern Pacific railroad tracks it would hamper development, they claim.

Hard to imagine a freeway through the neighborhoods bordering Downtown Los Altos
Route A and B Through Downtown Los Altos

It's hard to imagine just how Los Altos and surrounding neighborhoods would have changed if either Route A or Route B had been chosen. From design concepts for both the Magdalena Ave offramp and San Antonio/Downtown off ramps, large swaths of neighborhoods would have been changed.



View southward from downtown pre Foothill Expressway when Southern Pacific RR ran through town

View southward from downtown Los Altos with on/offramps onto San Antonio Road for proposed Route B.

Present day view of Foothill Expressway at San Antonio Road.


Magdalena Ave offramp in Los Altos for Route B alternative. Hard to believe that the offramp would have exited onto Berry Ave.

Present day Foothill Expressway and Magdalena

After more than a year of public meetings and debates within the commission, the State engineer recommended Route C which is the current path of Interstate 280 today. The federal government was going to provide 90% of the funding ($73 Million) for the freeway and it was going to take between 7 to 10 years to build. Los Altos Hills were 'disappointed' in the routing while the Los Altos representatives were 'jubilant'.

In the future I hope to dig more into the history of this freeway and other roads that helped shape the Bay Area.

27 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All