The Nimitz Freeway (Interstate 880, I-880 or simply 880), named in honor of WWII Navy Admiral Chester Nimitz runs from from I-80 near the Bay Bridge to US 101 in Santa Clara County. (I-880 continues for four miles in Santa Clara County to I-280, where it becomes California Route 17.) Many people consider the Nimitz Freeway, especially the portion through Oakland, to be one of the most dangerous, if not the most deadly highways in the Bay Area, thereby earning nicknames such as the 'Killer Nimitz" or the "Nasty Nimitz," and resulting in bumper stickers such as ones saying "Pray for Me, I Drive the Nimitz." Some drivers avoid the Nimitz if at all possible, while others have no problem with I-880. A significant reason the Nimitz is perceived to be unsafe is the fact that heavy trucks are banned from the parallel section of the MacArthur Freeway (I-580), so the Nimitz carries a heavy load of trucks.

In 1959, Admiral Nimitz personally cut the ribbon atop the Cypress Structure, the first double-deck structure ever completed in California, to open the freeway project to traffic -- expressing the hope that "this great freeway will be not only an avenue ... but will also be a 'safeway' helping to cut down on the tremendous loss of life on our highways." 1

On October 17, 1989, a major portion of the double-decker section of the Nimitz Freeway known as the Cypress Structure collapsed during the Loma Prieta Earthquake, killing 42 people.

For eight years, drivers wanting to connect between the Nimitz and I-80, whether going west over the Bay Bridge to San Francisco or north/eastward toward Sacramento, were forced to detour over the section of the Grove-Shafter Freeway signed as I-980, and then turn west on the MacArthur Freeway. Finally in 1997, after a long debate regarding the replacement of the Cypress Structure and construction of the new freeway, a new segment of the Nimitz Freeway that looped around the majority of West Oakland was opened, easing the connection to I-80.

Murilee Martin writes in a humorous article on entitled Hell Roads: The Dreaded Nimitz Freeway: "In my family, the freeway named after Admiral Chester Nimitz is always referred to as "The Dreaded Nimitz." The stretch nearest the Martin ancestral villa- let's say between the San Leandro border and the Bay Bridge- looms as a car-and-human-parts-strewn nightmare of potholes, 18-wheelers piloted by drivers at the tail ends of 3,000-mile amphetamine runs, heavily-armed drunks, and road-ragers. You'll find speeds ranging from 20 to 110 in the same traumatized stretch of choppy asphalt; on- and off-ramps are short, steep white-knuckle mid-50s setups that ensure maximum carnage during merges. And it used to be even worse, back in the pre-Interstate days when it was State Route 17; even before the '89 earthquake knocked down the Cypress structure you'd see a lot of "Pray For Me, I Drive The Nimitz" bumper stickers."

Links and References

  1. Bay Area roadways: Where'd the Names Come From? Oakland Tribune, June 14, 2013