This article is by Rachel Gordon, Chronicle Staff Writer of the San Francisco Chronicle.
They have a name for it: Carmageddon.
They have a plan: Stick close to home, if at all possible.
And they have this: no idea what really will transpire when a 10-mile stretch of Interstate 405 in Los Angeles is shut down for 53 hours starting tonight for a road-improvement project in the ultra-busy Sepulveda Pass in the heart of one of the most car-centric cultures in the world.
“Allow me to be blunt: It’s going to be a mess out there,” Los Angeles Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky posted on his City Hall website.
The 405, as it’s known in Southern California parlance, is one of the main traffic arteries in Los Angeles. The affected stretch, running from Interstate 10, the Santa Monica Freeway, to Highway 101, the Ventura Freeway, is traveled by an estimated 500,000 vehicles on a typical weekend, including plenty driven by Bay Area residents heading into Dodger territory for vacation.
There are no alternative routes nearby that can handle the anticipated overflow, prompting state and regional transportation officials to warn of severe, multihour delays, above and beyond the usual hair-pulling, steering wheel-pounding congestion for which Los Angeles is famous.
Sound familiar? For those old enough to remember when Los Angeles hosted the crowd-generating Summer Olympics in 1984 the prediction of a traffic nightmare was dire enough to scare motorists out of their cars, leaving the roads less congested than usual.
“The hope is that the 405 closure turns out like that, but the reality could be much different,” said Marie Montgomery, a spokeswoman for the Auto Club of Southern California.
It’s the height of the summer tourist and beach season, and the 405 is used to get to and from Los Angeles International Airport, Santa Monica and West L.A., the San Fernando Valley and coastal communities like Long Beach and Redondo Beach.
Some residents are taking the advice of government officials and staying put.
“My fiance and I have been making plans to not go anywhere that we can’t get to on our bikes or by foot,” said Anne Chang, a 31-year-old attorney who lives in Santa Monica. “I’m not planning to get in my car all weekend.” And that would be a big change for the couple.
It starts at 7 p.m.
If all goes according to plan, the ramps will begin to shut down at 7 tonight. The lane closures will begin at 10 p.m., with the goal to have the entire stretch of freeway closed by midnight. The closure will continue until 5 a.m. Monday, with the ramps and connectors reopened by 6 a.m., barely in time for the start of the hectic weekday commute.
Transportation officials have been planning for this weekend for more than a year, with public awareness campaigns increasing as tonight’s closure draws near. There are Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, smart phone apps, websites and YouTube videos devoted to the temporary closure of the freeway. Businesses are running Carmageddon specials, and T-shirts have been made up, including one that reads “My gridlock is bigger than yours.”
John Goodwin, spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, a regional funding and planning agency for the Bay Area, said he was driving on Interstate 5 near Redding over the Fourth of July weekend and saw electronic highway signs alerting people of the planned closure of the 405, hundreds of miles away.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who stopped by The Chronicle editorial board Thursday, said that if people don’t heed the warning and stay off the roads when the 405 is out of commission, “We’re going to have gridlock like we haven’t seen, maybe ever.” His prediction? “I expect it to go smoothly.” Ya Right
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