Southland businesses plan to capitalize on Carmageddon hype

Sepulveda Pass of I-405 at night, no traffic.
Sepulveda Pass of I-405 at night, no traffic. achituv/Flickr (cc by-nc-sa)

The Carmageddon clock is ticking. Late tonight, Caltrans will close the 405 Freeway through the Sepulveda Pass for 53 hours so crews can chip away at the southern end of the Mulholland Bridge. Officials have given motorists fair warning to find alternate routes or stay home. But not everyone’s urging people to stay away.

Half a million cars, a typical weekend flow on the 405, will go missing from that 10-mile stretch of freeway for 53 hours. But look up – there’s traffic in the sky.

All weekend, news choppers will offer viewers a bird’s-eye view of the carless freeway. One company hopes you’ll want a more memorable experience.

“You know, I thought about it and I’m like, ‘Why don’t we do a tour over the 405?’” said Vaughn Lusparyan, who runs Adventure Helicopter Tours out of Pacoima. “It’s a once in a lifetime unique opportunity for our L.A., either visitors or locals, to see the 405 actually empty.”

Looks like he’s on to something.  

Lusparyan says business is pouring in. By midweek, his company had booked 15 flights for the weekend. As Carmageddon hits, Lusparyan expects to sell about a hundred discounted tours.  

His candy-apple red Robinson R44 Raven helicopters will shuttle folks at least 500 feet above the vacant 405, from sun up to sun down. You can practically see the dollar signs in Lusparyan’s eyes.

When asked what kind of business he expects to drum up past what he normally makes in a weekend, Lusparyan pauses before he answers. “Anything over our norm would be just exceptional,” said Lusparyan. “I’m guessing, I don’t know – about 25-, 30,000.”

Like their customers, Lusparyan and his pilot Ryan Samala are also eager to check out the freeway closure from the sky.  

"I’m one of the first people that's going to go up,” Lusparyan said with a laugh.

Samala chimed in, “I don’t know what the freeway looks like without anybody on it because I’ve always been sitting in an hour of traffic between the 10 and the 101. So I don’t know. We’ll see."

Down on the ground, employees at Showbiz Store & Cafe were hashing out contingency plans for getting to work this weekend. Store manager Brandon Bannock said he’s taking this Carmageddon thing in stride.

“Well, I didn’t say that it wasn’t crazy but most people I think ... are shutting down or staying away, and we’re just gonna have some fun,” Bannock said.

Showbiz is a computer software store that specializes in film and TV production merchandise. The shop sits on Sepulveda along the 405 where crews will work without cars getting in their way.

Bannock’s got something in mind for weary motorists who take a detour near his shop before the freeway cut off point. “Why don’t we just throw a block party? For the neighbors, for anybody that’s stuck in traffic and is just fed up and wants to pull over for a while and hang out,” Bannock said. “Blow some steam off, you know? It’s just a little bit of therapy for everybody."

Aside from a DJ and food, Bannock said Carmageddon “therapy” will include raffling off cool prizes like iPods and a hotel dinner for two. The only catch? You have to be present to win.

Some events that aren’t attached to Carmageddon include Boyz II Men at Club Nokia in downtown L.A., the American Ballet Theatre at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and Bob Dylan at the Pacific Amphitheater in Costa Mesa. There’s also a big soccer match – the L.A> Galaxy against Real Madrid – at the L.A. Coliseum that should draw a big crowd.

Transportation authorities are urging motorists to allow enough leeway to make their weekend destinations on time.

The 405 is scheduled to reopen Monday morning at 5 a.m. Caltrans will do it all over again in 11 months when crews tear down the north side of Mulholland Bridge.

Find our most updated 405 shutdown information by clicking on this link.

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