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Key leg of Tracy Triangle opened 50 years ago

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I 205 road work

A paving crew of the Gordon H. Ball Construction Co. lays the final layer of paving of Interstate 205 before it was opened a half-century ago in December 1970. The freeway on the north side of Tracy was described as “one of the smoothest highway jobs in the state.” 

Tracy reputation as a major transportation hub was first assured in 1878 when the Central Pacific Railroad completed the junction of two rail lines, creating the town of Tracy in the process.

Those were the days when railroads carried nearly all of the freight for California’s growing business and industrial enterprises. Cars and trucks struggled to make their way along rutted, often dusty and sometimes muddy roads.

It was 50 years ago, though, that our town’s place in the new age of freeways and truck transportation was assured. It was the opening on Dec. 21, 1970, of what originally was called the North Tracy Bypass — and soon became known as Interstate 205.

I-205 was the second leg of the Tracy freeway triangle to be completed. Although the first leg, Interstate 580 opened three years earlier along the foothills, established an important connection between the Bay Area and Southern California, I-205 created the immediate impact of an essential link between the Bay Area and northern end of the San Joaquin Valley. It was a link that more recently has been taking on a new identity as “the “mega-region of Northern California.”

Meanwhile, back in the December 1970 ribbon-cutting opening Interstate 205, Assembly Speaker (and former Tracy mayor) Bob Monagan gave the main talk, taking note of the importance of the freeway triangle being pieced together around Tracy.

“With this freeway triangle, Tracy will be the focal point of the entire economy of Northern California,” he declared.

And especially, it was I-205 that immediately established the critical freeway infrastructure for Tracy’s warehousing and distribution industry, first with the Northeast Industrial Area to the east and more recently with the Prologis International Park of Commerce to the west — both bordering I-205.

Meanwhile, Interstate 580, the first leg of the freeway triangle opened in 1967 along the foothills, has become an increasingly important entry and exit point for trucks traveling to and from Safeway, Costco and FedEx and other major warehouse and distribution operations.

The third leg of the Tracy Triangle — a segment of Interstate 5 running north and south on the east side of town — was opened a year after I-205, assuring easy access to markets north to British Columbia south to the Mexican border.

But back to the opening of Interstate 205 in December 1970. It may be of at least some interest to motorists traveling daily on I-205 to learn that Neal Anderson, district engineer for the State Division of Highways (now Cal Trans), also spoke at the opening ceremony, making a point of praising the freeway’s quality of construction. He credited the project’s general contractor, the Gordon H. Ball Co. of Danville, as “turning out one of the smoothest highway jobs in the state.”

The highway engineer explained that state standards allow for as much as seven inches of variations of smoothness for every mile of freeway, but the North Tracy Bypass had only one inch of variation per mile. Does anyone know if that smooth ride persists today?

And I should add another note: The December 21, 1970, ribbon-cutting ceremony has a continuing connection to the Interstate 205 of today. As noted, Bob Monagan, the Assembly speaker and former Tracy mayor, gave the main address. Several years after it was opened, Interstate 205 gained another name, one still posted on signs along side the freeway — Robert T. Monagan Freeway.

Sam Matthews, Tracy Press publisher emeritus, can be reached at 830-4234 or by email at

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