USA Banner

Official US Government Icon

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure Site Icon

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

Public Roads - March/April 1998

Replacing Oakland's Cypress Freeway


Forty-two people were killed in the collapse of the double-decked Cypress Freeway in Oakland, Calif., on Oct. 17, 1989, when the Loma Prieta Earthquake rocked the San Francisco Bay Area. The quake measured 7.1 on the Richter scale, and although its epicenter was roughly 100 kilometers from Oakland, the damage was extensive throughout the Bay Area.

When the quake occurred at 5:04 p.m., a television audience of an estimated 60 million baseball fans in the United States and millions in other countries were watching the pregame broadcast of the third game of the 1989 World Series at San Francisco's Candlestick Park. Their screens went black. When power was restored at the ballfield, the sportscasters became newscasters, providing reports of the damage to the stadium and to other parts of the area.

In a matter of seconds, more than 100 people were killed and 3,000 were injured in the third most lethal earthquake in U.S. history.1 None of the millions of people glued to their television sets that evening or who saw subsequent news broadcasts - and certainly, none of the people of the Bay Area - will ever forget the dramatic and tragic scenes of destruction.

And none of the scenes were more dramatic or more tragic than the collapse of the Cypress Freeway, Interstate 880. In a report for Time magazine, Oct. 30, 1989, Ed Magnuson described it this way:

"To the north in Oakland, auto mechanic Richard Reynolds glanced at the traffic on the double-decker I-880 freeway across the street and urged a friend not to drive to night school until after the rush hour. Minutes later, Reynolds felt 'a ripple.' Then a neighbor screamed a warning. He ran out of his shop to find 'the whole goddam ground lifting up.' He grabbed a telephone pole as the sidewalk buckled beneath his feet and looked up at a horrifying sight. A mile-long section of the freeway's upper deck began to heave, then collapsed onto the lower roadway, flattening cars as if they were beer cans. 'It just slid. It didn't fall. It just slid,' said Reynolds. 'You couldn't see nothing but dust. The people came out of the dust.' But not many."1

A Community Stands as the Freeway Collapses

The destroyed section of I-880 between 7th and 18th streets in West Oakland had to be removed. This segment of interstate was a major route for motorists traveling to and from San Francisco, Berkeley, and the South Bay. Before the earthquake, more than 160,000 vehicles used this eight-lane structure every day. With this highway out of service, the I-880 traffic shifted to the remaining parts of the Oakland freeway network, causing I-980 and portions of I-580 to become heavily congested.



With this tragedy came an opportunity for the residents of West Oakland. Community involvement was a very important part of the rebuilding process, which took nearly eight years.

The original Cypress structure was part of the Nimitz Freeway, built in the 1950s, bisecting West Oakland neighborhoods. Through the environmental impact process, the public outcry resulted in the selection of an alternative route that better fit the needs of the traveling public and the needs of the residents of West Oakland. The new freeway was relocated to the west along the Southern Pacific railroad corridor. This route created the additional challenge of removing more than 161 km of track. Although residents wanted to move the freeway completely out of Oakland, the selected route was a compromise that eliminated the physical and psychological barriers of an obtrusive freeway in this thriving port community.

The community involvement didn't stop there. A public information office and a Citizens' Advisory Committee were established to keep the public informed and to voice community opinion on everything from the removal of hazardous waste to detour schedules. As part of the public outreach, the Cypress Freeway Employment Clearinghouse encouraged the hiring of area residents, minorities, and women to rebuild and provide materials for the new freeway.


Caltrans (California Department of Transportation) and the community of West Oakland established the following goals, which were reflected in the advertising of the bid package of the major contracts:

  • 35-percent Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) participation.
  • 20-percent Local Business Enterprise (LBE) participation.
  • 45-percent employment of local residents, minorities, and women on a craft-by-craft basis by hours of employment.

Caltrans hired an independent consultant, the Cypress Independent Monitoring Team, to monitor DBE contract compliance on the project. The headquarters of this team was collocated with the public information center on 7th Street at a site that was easily accessible to all West Oakland residents.

Table 1 shows that community outreach can produce results.

Table 1 - Minority Hiring in Contracts to Rebuild the Cypress Freeway
  Total African American Hispanic Asian American Native American Female
& $ % $ % $ % $ % $ % $ %
DBE 204.6 43.9 35.9 7.7 112.5 24.2 8.2 1.8 9.8 2.1 38.2 8.2
LBE 90.6 19.5 33.2 8.2 6.8 1.5 0 0 0 0 17.4 3.74
Note: $ are in millions.

Taken from the Independent Monitoring Team's Monthly Project Status Report.

The project's $1.1 billion budget, 90 percent of which came from federal emergency relief funds, comprised approximately $650 million for construction, $350 million for right-of-way acquisition and for the relocation of the railroad and utilities, and the remainder for traffic management, transit enhancement, and mitigation.

The project was broken into two phases. Phase 1 included the construction of the new western mainline along the railroad corridor and restored I-880 for traffic to and from San Francisco. Phase 2 included a connection with I-80 for traffic to and from Sacramento.

The rerouted I-880 alleviates severe congestion at the I-580/980 and I-80/580/880 distribution structures (freeway-to-freeway interchanges) and eases local traffic congestion on city streets.

The project was separated into seven major contracts and 15 to 20 smaller contracts. Use of the smaller contracts was a strategy used to maximize DBE participation. The major contracts are referred to by the letters A-G and range from $14 million to $132 million.


Major Contracts
Contract A
Contract A was awarded for $80,730,895. This contract was made up of two structures beginning at the I-880/980 split and ending at grade for Contract B. The structures are post-tensioned concrete box girders spanning the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system.

One of the biggest challenges presented to Cypress engineers was the discovery of a hazardous material, vinyl chloride. Workers relocating a utility line smelled a strong odor; the odor was from an underground plume of water contaminated by vinyl chloride. Vinyl chloride travels through groundwater as a gas, and it is a known carcinogen.

This caused delays in completing the contracted work because careful study was required to determine the level of contamination and risk to nearby residents. A Remedial Action Workplan (RAW) was developed, and the California Environmental Protection Agency's Department of Toxic Substance Control approved the plan. The solution was to avoid the vinyl chloride by building an above-ground footing with piles that did not require excavation. This allowed the contractor to construct the footing without disturbing the hazardous material. One of the conclusions of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Superfund clean-up study was that the level of contamination was well below that considered harmful. The U.S. EPA even went the extra mile by pumping out the groundwater and cleaning it through a filter system before dispersing it into the air.

aerialOther difficulties on this contract included the complete redesign of the Market Street off-ramp in response to the city of Oakland, revision of 365 meters of vertical profile - the vertical curvature of the structure -due to clearance restrictions, and the removal of lead-contaminated soil.

Contract B
Contract B was awarded for $79,530,000. This contract was at grade with a depressed interchange at 7th Street. The depressed section was constructed 7.6 meters below groundwater level using slurry-mixed cutoff walls.

A major milestone on this contract was widening the opening between two BART columns to allow the new freeway to pass under the BART structure. It was necessary to build new columns without disturbing the groundwater or the sensitive rail tracks. A movement of 1.5 millimeters or more could cause a derailment.

This contract did not have an incentive clause for early completion; therefore, contract time and coordination of the completion date to coincide with the other contracts for the opening of Phase 1 became critical.

One time constraint was that this area of the project required a surcharge for almost a year. A surcharge is basically the application of weight for an extended period of time to allow for settling of soils before the roadway section is constructed. This ensures less settling and consequent pumping of the soils over the life of the facility. Some contract time was saved by using the heavier concrete rubble from the demolished Cypress structure as the surcharge material instead of the planned soil surcharge.

 boringContract C
Contract C was awarded for $14,168,316. This contract consisted of two concrete box girder structures for northbound and southbound I-880, including a soundwall on the structure. This was the first contract completed on the Cypress Project.

Contract D
Contract D was awarded for $28,769,323. This contract made the turn toward the Bay Bridge. Construction over the railroad created several challenges. Much coordination with the railroad authorities was required during girder erection, and railroad clearance restrictions necessitated a change in the construction method for pouring the concrete deck.

The change of construction procedures from falsework to movable forms ultimately resulted in a claim of "change in character" of the work. The contractor planned on a certain type of construction using falsework and had to change methods after construction started. The contractor had not used the required method and claimed that his operation would cost more than planned as a result of the learning curve and the loss of efficiency.

Contract E
Contract E was awarded for $132,520,000. Contract E was the most complex and most expensive of all the Cypress contracts. This contract, which required numerous detours, lane changes, and railroad flagging, had the most risk associated with traffic disturbance. Several types of structures, ranging from orthotropic steel box girders to flat slab sections, were constructed.

Contract E was one of two contracts with an incentive/disincentive clause for $50,000 per day. The contractor earned the maximum incentive - $6,000,000 - for getting the contract completed for the opening of the mainline from I-980 to the Toll Plaza at the Bay Bridge on July 23, 1997. This contract was also bid using the A+B method because of the time constraints associated with opening the mainline and the coordination of the other contracts necessary for the opening.

Contract F
Contract F was awarded for $110,154,000. This was one of the partnered contracts on Cypress, and the contract has experienced no claims. Contract F included the construction of a temporary structure at Grand Avenue to keep traffic moving while new bridges were being built.

Contract F also had an incentive/disincentive clause and was bid as an A+B contract. The contractor was awarded the full incentive of $3,000,000 for completing his portion of the project on time for the July 23 opening of the Phase 1 mainline.

Contract G
Contract G was awarded for $36,600,000. This contract is the key to the second phase of the Cypress project, linking I-880 to I-80 for traffic moving to and from Sacramento. The large steel girders on this contract proved to be a challenge to Caltrans and the contractor's engineers. Windloads and erection procedures had to be carefully scrutinized because of the proximity to traffic on adjacent roadways.

Contract G had an experimental feature - mobile inspection and documentation. The use of a hand-held computer permitted inspectors in the field to store and retrieve data related to extra work, item work, contract conditions, claims information, employee interviews, and so forth. Caltrans continues to perfect the system, which provides Caltrans engineers and managers easy access to stored information, and will be using it on all of their contracts in an estimated $3.2 billion bridge replacement and retrofit program in the Bay Area.


It took nine years and $1.2 billion dollars to rebuild the Cypress Freeway. The new freeway is not a double-decker, and it was constructed using the latest technology and very high standards for seismic design. West Oakland residents got what they wanted, and those involved learned a lot along the way.

Many folks, including those in Caltrans' District 4 Office and many others in the field, deserve a great deal of credit for planning, coordinating, and implementing a politically sensitive, complex project with seven major contracts. Southern Pacific Railroad was a key player in this project. The successful partnering and daily coordination among the key players, including the Southern Pacific chief engineer, the Cypress construction chief, and individual resident engineers, enabled the mainline to open on July 23, 1997. Much progress has been made to ensure the same success for Phase II of the project, the link between I-880 and I-80 to Sacramento.


In essence, the Cypress Project has become an intermodal showcase by bringing railroad facilities up to today's standards, linking national and local resources such as the Oakland Army Base and trucking depots, and providing access for the port of Oakland and community businesses.

The Cypress Project used many new techniques, materials, and methods. The role of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) as a steward of the highway program is focusing more on discovering and promoting new technology and on transferring information and new techniques to other agencies, states, and other partners. For example, FHWA is transferring mobile inspection technology to states by working with consultants, marketing experts, and interested parties, including FHWA's Federal Lands Office, the New York Thruway, and local public works agencies. FHWA is also aggressively gathering information and marketing tools to share lessons learned, encourage the use of new materials such as the polystyrene and lightweight concrete fill, and promote new ideas.


If FHWA representatives can provide one new idea or technique or solution that shows tangible results, then the agency is making progress toward the achievement of one or more of its strategic goals - to enhance the safety, mobility, and productivity of the National Highway System and to contribute to the human and natural environment and to national defense - and is serving the needs of our customers, the taxpaying and traveling public.

That's technology transfer. That's making experience pay dividends.

For more information on any features of the Cypress Project, please contact Brett Jackson, transportation engineer for the Federal Highway Administration at (916) 498-5852, e-mail, or go to the following Internet sites: or


  1. Ed Magnuson. "Earthquake," Time, Time Inc., Oct. 30, 1989.
  2. Cypress Independent Monitoring Team Reports.
  3. Cypress Public Information Office.
  4. Caltrans photographs and project documents.

Brett Jackson is a transportation engineer for the Federal Highway Administration. He is currently the Department of Transportation project manager for oversight of the Cypress Freeway Replacement Project in Oakland, Calif. He is also responsible for the development of federal-aid projects - including environmental, design, construction, and maintenance projects - in the counties of Marin, Napa, Sonoma, and Santa Clara. He is a 1992 graduate of The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina.