Semitrucks ride along Interstate 880 highway in East Oakland
Trucks ride along the Interstate 880 in East Oakland. Diesel trucks are banned from Oakland's other main freeway, Interstate 580. Credit: Amir Aziz

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Since 1951, an 8.7-mile stretch of road from Grand Avenue to the San Leandro border has been off limits to truckers. First applied to city thoroughfares and later Interstate 580, the ban has funneled truck traffic through Interstate 880, along East Oakland’s industrial and residential flatlands. 

The 70-year-old prohibition of big-rig trucks on I-580 is the subject of a town hall scheduled for Thursday led by Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley, who said diverting the trucks to I-880 and other highways “has created a legacy of air pollution, asthma and other impacts on residents in Oakland.” 

Research has shown neighborhoods along I-880 have significantly higher concentrations of harmful pollutants from diesel exhaust than those along I-580. 

Miley has invited members of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and Caltrans to lead a public discussion from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Thursday on the history of the two Oakland freeways and the health disparities and economic impacts the truck ban has caused. Public input is sought as both BAAQMD and Caltrans conduct an analysis over the next year, the supervisor said. 

“The 1951 decision reflected an imbalance of political power and inequity and it’s time to evaluate if and how the truck ban should remain in place,” Miley said in a statement. 

Trucks were barred from MacArthur Boulevard in 1951, and in 1963 the Oakland City Council passed an ordinance prohibiting heavy trucks from the new I-580, named the MacArthur Freeway. With the ban set to expire in 1968, then-Mayor John Reading and a committee called Citizens Against Trucks on MacArthur Freeway successfully lobbied the state not to lift it. 

Committee members claimed that repealing the ban would raise noise levels in the areas near the I-580, and the truck traffic would “downgrade the entire area,” according to a 1967 article in the Oakland Tribune. Using a bit of theater, Mayor Reading held a news conference on a noisy Nimitz Freeway (I-880) overpass to make his point.

The ban was extended indefinitely in 1967, prohibiting all vehicles weighing more than 4.5 tons, but with the caveat that it would be reviewed periodically. Miley said Thursday’s virtual town hall is the first-of-its kind review in decades. 

Also on hand will be students from Oakland’s Life Academy of Health and Bioscience, who have called attention to environmental racism and pollution that disproportionately affects Black and brown neighborhoods in East Oakland.  

According to the Environmental Defense Fund, levels of black carbon are 80% higher on I-880 than on I-580. Levels of nitrogen dioxide, another harmful air pollutant, were 60% higher on 880 than on 580, the nonprofit advocacy organization found.  

To RSVP for the town hall, visit https://tinyurl.com/580TruckTownhall.

David DeBolt reports on City Hall and policing for The Oaklandside. He spent 12 years working for daily newspapers in the Bay Area, including on the Peninsula and Solano County. He joined the Bay Area News Group in 2012 where he covered a variety of beats, most recently as a senior breaking news reporter. During his time at BANG, DeBolt covered Oakland City Hall, the Raiders stadium saga and the A’s search for a new ballpark, as well as the Oakland Police Department and police reform efforts. He was part of the East Bay Times staff honored with the Pulitzer Prize in Breaking News for coverage of the Ghost Ship warehouse fire.