405 'mission accomplished'

Signs welcomed Los Angeles drivers back onto a section of the 405 freeway that had been closed for much of the weekend.
Signs welcomed Los Angeles drivers back onto a section of the 405 freeway that had been closed for much of the weekend.
Grant Slater/KPCC

The 10-mile shutdown portion of the 405 has reopened about 16 hours earlier than scheduled. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa declared the 405 "mission accomplished" and thanked Angelenos for cooperating during the extraordinarily smooth shutdown that had been called "Carmageddon."

In the city known for its love of cars and "addicted to the single-passenger vehicle ... not enough is said about the people of Los Angeles when they come together, when they decide that we all have to work together to make something work. And I’m proud of this effort. I’m proud of what the people have been able to do," Villaraigosa said.

The traffic many thought would be a nightmare was much lighter than normal as Los Angeles entered the second day in the shutdown of Interstate 405 — one of the country's busiest highways. Crews began cleanup efforts Sunday after finishing their demolition work at about 7 a.m., toppling two massive pillars hours ahead of schedule. The reopening began with the northbound on-ramps starting at Cotner, and southbound at Ventura. The Skirball ramps will be the last to open at 3 p.m.

The freeway previously was scheduled to reopen at 5 a.m. Monday, with on-ramps and connectors all open an hour later.

Officials were elated that the public appeared to get the message to avoid "Carmageddon" by staying off the roads, though some were concerned the lack of gridlock would make drivers complacent and spur them to return to the road before Monday's previously scheduled reopening. Authorities closed the segment of 405 at midnight Friday for a planned 53 hours to allow partial demolition of the Mulholland Bridge.

For weeks, authorities warned people that driving as usual this weekend could trigger what's been hyped as "Carmageddon" — an event could back up vehicles from the 405 to surface streets and other freeways, causing a domino effect that could paralyze much of Los Angeles.

But Zev Yaroslavsky, the L.A. County supervisor who gave Carmageddon its name, said it went so well, L.A. should potentially make it an annual holiday.

"Carmageddon, schmarmageddon. Seriously. this has been a great weekend for Los Angeles," he said. "Let's do it again 11 months from now. And maybe we'll do it every year!"

Indeed, the region's fear of epic traffic jams dissipated with fewer cars on the roads.

"It's been one of the most quiet Saturdays I've seen in forever," said Steven Ramada, who had expected to hear lots of cars honking in front of his Sherman Oaks home but instead only heard news helicopters.

Project contractor Kiewit Infrastructure West faced a $6,000 fine in each direction for every 10 minutes of delay in getting the freeway reopened, according to the city's Metropolitan Transportation Authority. That's a total of $72,000 an hour. But now the contractor will get a $300,000 bonus for finishing early. Dan Kulka, a spokesperson for Kiewit, said it wasn't about the money.

"We made a commitment to the people of Southern California that we would open this, open the freeway by 5 a.m. Monday morning. That was really important to us and we know it's very important to the community. It affects thousands and thousands of people. So that's what kept us up at night as we were planning the last six months ... ," he said.

Villaraigosa flew over the city in a helicopter and said it was clear there were far fewer cars on freeways and streets than normal, but he cautioned on Saturday in a midafternoon news conference that there were hours to go.

Progress on demolition of the half-century-old Mulholland Bridge was on schedule, Villaraigosa said. Powerful machines with long booms hammered away at the south side of the span, which was removed to allow construction of an additional freeway lane. The plan is to leave the north-side lanes standing until the south side is rebuilt. Another closure, scheduled to occur in 11 months, will be required in the future to demolish the north side.

The potential for "Carmageddon" was rooted in Los Angeles' geography. The city is divided by the Santa Monica Mountains, which stretch more than 40 miles from near downtown westward through Malibu. The populous San Fernando Valley lies on the north side, and the Los Angeles Basin sprawls to the south.

Local and long-distance freeway traffic through the mountains has to squeeze through Sepulveda Pass on I-405 or about five miles to the east through Cahuenga Pass, which carries U.S. 101 through the heart of Hollywood. In between there is no grid of boulevards, just a few narrow, windy canyon roads.

Skirting the closure to the west of Sepulveda Pass would require even longer canyon routes between U.S. 101 and the Pacific Coast Highway.

The 405's load is increased by a major interstate interchange below the south end of Sepulveda Pass and traffic associated with the University of California, Los Angeles, and Los Angeles International Airport.

At the north end of the pass, the 405 connects with a major artery between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Farther north, the 405 also connects with California's backbone highway, Interstate 5.

While the Carmageddon weekend went smoother than people expected, it still created problems for truckers.

Independent trucker Lee Kless told KPCC that most long-haul truckers made plans to steer clear of the area. But some deliveries to local grocery and big box retail stores might have been delayed, including deliveries to gas stations, and grocery and big box retail stores.

But the drumbeat of warnings about the weekend triggered an instant industry of businesses trying to capitalize. JetBlue offered special flights from Burbank in the San Fernando Valley to Long Beach, with seats for the short hop costing just $4 or $5.

A group of cyclists challenged one of the JetBlue flights to a race to Long Beach based on when passengers would have to leave for the airport. And they won. The cyclists told KPCC they hoped the race showed a car isn't the only way to get around in L.A.

This story incorporates information from the Associated Press.