Whatever nickname you want to give it — "Rampture," "Ramp Jam" — it starts Friday night. Two ramps connecting Wilshire Boulevard to the 405 Freeway in West L.A. will close for three months — and that won’t be the end of it.
All eight Wilshire ramps at the 405 will shut down at some point over the next year, as part of a $1 billion project to ease traffic on the highway through the Sepulveda Pass.
This closure marks the beginning of what could be up to a year of crippling traffic in Westwood and West Los Angeles — "Carmageddon on steroids," as one official put it.
Games Geotz commutes to West L.A. from the Valley via the 405. "I think I’ve already accepted it but I mean, yeah, I’m kind of annoyed by it,” he said.
For the next three months, the Westbound Wilshire on-ramp to the northbound 405 and the northbound 405 off-ramp to westbound Wilshire will be closed. That’s forcing Geotz and thousands of others to find an alternate route.
"I’m not telling, then everyone else will take it," Geotz said, laughing. "No, I’m probably going to either take Sunset, and that’s going to be disgustingly horrible. Or... there’s a couple of canyons I can take. Undisclosed canyons."
UCLA is closing its campus gates to prevent drivers from cutting through. Commuters are also eyeing Sepulveda and Santa Monica boulevards as potential detours.
Delivery driver Alex Santos already uses Sunset to avoid Wilshire, so he too will have to find another way around.
"That I don’t know yet," Santos said. "I guess until it happens, probably have to be looking [for] another route off the streets.”
The L.A. Department of Transportation estimates an average of nearly 106,000 vehicles a day cross the intersection of Wilshire and Sepulveda Boulevard. That’s what you get when you have one of the busiest boulevards slam into the busiest freeway.
Eric Cho owns Sandbag’s gourmet sandwich shop on Westwood Boulevard.
“A ramp sandwich — you know, for 90 days we might just do that!” Cho said.
He’s hoping the extra traffic won’t stifle business. Cho remembers that things went smoothly last summer when a stretch of the 405 was shut down for a weekend — the so-called "Carmageddon."
“I didn’t really see much of a difference. It went by really quick," Cho said. "But one weekend compared to 90 days is nothing. So 90 days, a quarter of a year, it’s going to be a challenge for everyone to get to where they are going.”
Metro plans to station extra traffic officers at key intersections. Metro has been running ads on radio and newspaper websites this week, strongly urging commuters and residents in the area to plan ahead for the closures.
"Plan ahead, adjust your travel times, share the ride," the ads advise.
Transportation officials are advising commuters coming through the area to use public transit if they can. If that’s not an option, then Metro suggests that you rideshare, or see if you can shift your work schedule or telecommute. But if you do have to drive in the area during rush hour, give yourself lots more time to get to and from work.
Theresa Padgett works the front office of Zakhor Dental Group on Wilshire, two blocks east of the interchange. She said she plans to give herself an extra hour for her commute to Westwood from Torrance.
"I'm worried about Sepulveda. I can't even imagine what it's going to be like," she said. "I love my job, so I hope our office is not impacted."
Beginning at 10 p.m., transportation officials will begin closing the westbound Wilshire onramp to the northbound 405 and the northbound 405 offramp to westbound Wilshire. Construction crews will immediately begin demolishing the closed ramps and continue ongoing construction on replacement "fly-over" ramps.
Under a 24-hour-per-day work schedule, the new ramps will be completed within 90 days, officials said.
Construction crews will then turn their attention to the other six ramps. The demolition schedule for those ramps has not been finalized. Metro spokesman Dave Sotero said the ramps might be done in pairs or all at the same time, with each ramp taking between two weeks and three months to tear down.
"We are trying to be as flexible as we can. The goal of the all the work is to try to minimize the impact to the public as much as we can," Sotero said.
The ramp demolition is part of a larger $1 billion freeway improvement project that includes a 10-mile carpool lane on the northbound 405 between the Santa Monica (10) Freeway and Ventura (101) Freeway. Metro hopes to have the lane open by the summer of 2013.
Officials said the ramp project will ultimately relieve congestion dramatically and improve safety where Wilshire Boulevard meets the 405. Under the current ramp configuration, cars exiting the freeway onto Wilshire are forced to weave through traffic trying to get on the freeway, and vice-versa. The new fly-over ramps will separate the two traffic flows, allowing for smoother transitions, Metro officials said.
"The next 90 days are going to be very difficult. There's no way to put lipstick on this pig. It's 'Carmageddon' on steroids," said Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who represents the area and who sits on Metro's Board of Directors. "People should try to avoid the intersection if at all possible."
However, Yaroslavsky said, the payoff when the project is complete will be high.
"This is one of the worthiest projects that I've ever been involved with. The on- and off-ramps at the Wilshire-405 interchange are among the most poorly designed, dysfunctional in America," he said.
Yaroslavsky urged people to carpool or use public transportation.
"I know people are cynical about public transportation. I urge people to try it, and see if they like it. It's a good system," Yaroslavsky said.
During the demolition of ramps that span Sepulveda Boulevard, traffic officers will reduce Wilshire by two lanes between Veteran and Federal avenues, though motorists will still be able to travel in both directions on Wilshire, Sotero said.
During the ramp closure, drivers on Wilshire will be directed north on Sepulveda to the Moraga Drive onramp or south on Sepulveda Boulevard to the Santa Monica Boulevard onramp. Northbound motorists exiting the freeway should use offramps at Santa Monica or Sunset boulevards. Digital traffic signs and officers will help manage the detours.
Here's a map of the detours and other potential exits:
View I-405 ramp demolition: Weekend street closures, detours in a larger map
Motorists are encouraged to skip unnecessary trips to the area during the shutdown and to monitor local news reports or visit go511.com for real- time traffic conditions.