City and county politicians joined public safety and transportation officials at a news conference Monday morning to alert motorists about a planned 10-mile, 53-hour closure of the heavily traveled 405 freeway in mid-July.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and City Councilman Bill Rosendahl inadvertently underscored the importance of planning ahead by getting stuck in traffic and arriving a half hour late for the rush-hour news conference held at the Skirball Cultural Center adjacent to the bustling interstate.
"Anybody who would decide to have a press conference on the 405 at 9 o'clock in the morning is trying to make a point," Villaraigosa said. "And the point is there's gridlock on the 405 at virtually any time of the day, but particularly during the rush hour. And, if you think it's bad now, let me just make something absolutely clear. On July 16 and 17, it will be an absolute nightmare and that's why we're asking the public to plan ahead, to avoid the area, to not go on the 405, or anywhere close, during that period of time."
Villaraigosa and other officials hammered home a consistent message to plan ahead, avoid the area or stay home.
Construction crews for the I-405 Sepulveda Pass Improvements Project plan to demolish half of the Mulholland Bridge in the Sepulveda Pass in mid-July in order to build a new, wider bridge and a carpool lane on the freeway. The demolition is part of a $1 billion project to add a 10-mile northbound carpool lane that will complete the carpool lane network between Orange County and the San Fernando Valley.
Ramps along the 10-mile closure between Interstate 10 and Highway 101 will begin to shut down as early as 7 p.m. on Friday, July 15, and the closure of freeway lanes will begin at 10 p.m. to ensure full freeway closure by midnight. The freeway will remain closed until 5 a.m. Monday morning, July 18, and all ramps and connectors will be reopened by 6 a.m. Officials said they chose to close the freeway over a weekend to minimize inconvenience to weekday working commuters.
The stretch of freeway that will be closed in mid-July has been rather infamous over the years. For example, O.J. Simpson's white Ford Bronco took the 405's Sunset Boulevard exit during his widely televised 1994 police chase; UCLA students in 1966 blocked the 405's northbound lanes at Wilshire Boulevard to protest a decision to send the University of Southern California's football team to the Rose Bowl, and comedian Bill Cosby's son, Ennis Cosby, was shot and killed in January 1997 near a Sepulveda Pass freeway exit after his car got a flat tire.
Roughly 500,000 vehicles travel along this stretch of the 405 during a typical weekend in July, and everyone should try to avoid the area to help ease the expected gridlock, Villaraigosa said.
"They're calling this 'carmageddon' and our objective is to prove all the predictors wrong and it doesn't need to be a 'carmageddon,' " said L. A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.
He echoed Villaraigosa by repeating that there were no alternative routes open to drivers.
"The best alternative route is to totally avoid the 405 area, completely avoid it, don't come anywhere near it, don't even think about coming to it, stay the heck out of here," Yaroslavsky said.
Yaroslavsky has represented the area for 36 years and said he knows every shortcut.
"Not one of them is going to work on the weekend of the 15, 16 and 17th," he said.
L.A. City Councilmen Paul Koretz and Rosendahl, who represent areas surrounding the freeway, also urged motorists to avoid the 405.
"Stay the hell away," Koretz said.
"Folks, just grab your calendar and put an 'X' on [July] 15, 16 and 17 and don't come to this side of town to get over the hill one way or another," Rosendahl said.
Motorists who must drive through the Greater Los Angeles area should use alternative freeways within the region to bypass the closed area. Traffic conditions on local streets and freeways are expected to be severe with multi-hour delays. Sepulveda Boulevard, which is normally an alternative to the 405, will be open to local residents only.
The California Highway Patrol, the L.A. Police Department, the L.A. Fire Department, Caltrans, Metrolink and Metro also had representatives at the news conference and have been working together to get the word out, including the use of Facebook and Twitter.
"Everyone is going to be impacted," said Richard Katz, chairman of the regional rail service Metrolink. "The point we can't stress enough is that it's not just the area around the 405. It's literally from Santa Barbara to San Diego to Antelope Valley and places beyond. If people come to visit their relatives, Metrolink wants to send the message that if you have to travel, we provide an alternative to get you out of your car."
Metrolink will add additional trains in the Antelope Valley area and between L.A. and Orange counties, Katz said.
Caltrans will let drivers know about the closure in advance through its freeway message signs with advisories extending all the way to Northern California, said Michael Miles, Caltrans District 7 director.
"It's going to be a real horrendous weekend. You need to really plan your trips and think about what you need to do and stay away," Miles said. "A barbecue would be good that weekend."
Police officers will escort fire trucks to the area if they're needed during the closure period and evacuation plans have been made in the case of a wildfire, officials said.
The 405 is a major thoroughfare to L.A. International Airport and Friday night and Monday morning are some of the airport's busiest times for passengers and workers, said Jacqueline Yaft, deputy director of operations and emergency at L.A. World Airports, which operates LAX.
One of the airport's chief goals is to ensure that its 20,000 weekend employees make it to work on time so passengers won't encounter delays due to lack of staff, Yaft said. The airport also will have to let the 170,000 daily passengers know about the freeway closure, including 52,000 international passengers, Yaft said.
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