Interstate 238 was designated in 1984 as a result of California State Assembly Bill 2741, which modified the route numbering for SR 17 and Interstate 580 in the state highway system. This legislation introduced I-238 and I-980 in Oakland, provided for an extension of I-580 to Marin County, and designated SR 17 as I-880 between San Jose and Oakland. Sign changes due to AB 2741 were implemented along all affected routes by 1985.
Originally California 238 was to continue as a freeway south from Interstate 580 through Hayward. Those plans were shelved indefinitely due to residential opposition and environmental concerns. A court decision in 2003 ended the plans for the recommended Mission Freeway along the green route, with subsequent plans calling instead for the upgrade of Mission Boulevard into an expressway, with potential interchanges at key locations. Stub ramps, since demolished, were previously located along I-680 west of Exit 15 (Washington Boulevard) for the unconstructed freeway.