The Joe Colla Interchange has a deserving ring to it.
A resolution has been introduced in the state Legislature to name the interchange at Highway 101 and Interstate 280-680 after the San Jose councilman who in 1976 pulled off one of the greatest — and maybe most effective — stunts in Bay Area history.
Construction started on the interchange — then came to a sudden halt as then-Gov. Jerry Brown suspended most highway building in the state in a cost-cutting measure. Road crews disappeared and what remained was a 200-foot ramp suspended in the air with rebar sticking out of both ends.
The ramp was dubbed San Jose's "Monument to Nowhere."
In the pre-dawn hours of a sunny but chilly January day, Colla got a crane operator to lift a Chevy on top of the unfinished ramp. Then the feisty councilman and drugstore owner jumped in a helicopter, which dropped him off next to the car. A photograph was snapped of Colla with arms outstretched and the caption: "Where Do We Go From Here?"
"No one knew for days who had been responsible for that stunt," said David Fadness, a longtime transportation commissioner in Santa Clara County. "Was it effective? I believe so.
"Caltrans and our elected officials were left with no place to hide. Far more than letters or calls from angry constituents could ever do, Colla's bold stunt led to action. It was a hilarious bright spot in a gloomy political era."
Added Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese, who has led the push to name the interchange after Colla:
"The message went from here to Sacramento before the information age in about two seconds flat."
California had been in a highway building boom until Brown took office. Then freeway work came to a near halt statewide and this interchange came to symbolize the paralysis of the times.
Crews had built about a 200-foot section of the overpass about 30 feet above ground, and huge pillars supported the curving roadway — in midair. It stayed that way for more than a year.
Then the Colla Crusade began. After the car stunt, he organized a 300-car caravan to Sacramento to push for the interchange's completion. And daughter Colette went along. Call it a 1970s Tea Party.
"I remember it very well," said Colette Colla Blakely who lives in Pendleton, Ore. "For a 16-year-old, that was pretty exciting."
Colla, who died in 1995 at age 75, at first played coy. He claimed not to know anything about anything.
Then, later, he 'fessed up.
"What a stunt," he said in an interview later.
A stunt he was proud of, as is his family.
"Dad would be extremely humbled by this, but he would have enjoyed it very much," said another daughter, Coleen Colla. "Yes, it was a prank. But it brought the attention to San Jose and what you need to do to get something done."
Yes, it did. To the thanks of the 450,000 motorists who now pass through this interchange every weekday, San Jose's "Monument to Nowhere" now goes somewhere.
Contact Gary Richards at email@example.com or 408-920-5335.