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Plenty to sweat about on Labor Day weekend

As the Southland's heat wave rolls on, travelers can expect delays from holiday traffic, closures and a border protest.

August 31, 2007|Tami Abdollah and James Ricci | Times Staff Writers

Southern California's extended swelter worsened Thursday and is expected to reach its peak over the long Labor Day weekend, when those hoping to escape the heat will face major road delays to the north, east and south.

The third day of what has become the longest heat wave of the year saw temperatures inch up again Thursday, peaking at 91 in downtown L.A., 109 in Woodland Hills, 97 in Anaheim and 111 in Riverside. The National Weather Service predicts no relief until Tuesday or Wednesday.

Los Angeles came close to setting an all-time record for power consumption as temperatures reached triple digits in some city precincts. Officials with the Department of Water and Power expected usage to exceed 6,168 megawatts Thursday -- but aggressive conservation efforts by residents and businesses in the afternoon left the amount just shy of the record, at 6,039 megawatts, still the third-largest daily usage ever.

The energy squeeze is expected to ease today as businesses -- the biggest power users -- begin to close down for the holiday weekend.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday, September 18, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 54 words Type of Material: Correction
Heatstroke: An Aug. 31 article in Section A about how to care for heatstroke victims stated that they should not be given fluids. According to the National Institutes of Health, victims should be given fluids if they are conscious and able to sip them. If victims are not conscious, fluids are typically administered intravenously.

But for the estimated 3.1 million Southern Californians expected to be driving elsewhere this weekend, leaving may prove even more difficult than usual. Travel to four of Southern Californians' top five holiday destinations -- San Diego, Mexico, Northern California and Las Vegas -- is expected to be hampered.

People heading to San Diego and Mexico today can expect delays because all southbound lanes of Interstates 5 and 805, just north of the border crossing, were to be closed. A protest scheduled between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. on the Mexican side will probably close down crossings on both sides for most of today at San Ysidro, Otay Mesa and Tecate, said Edward Cartagena, a Caltrans spokesman.

"Worst-case scenario is that for six hours those ports of entry could be closed to traffic," he said. "So you're talking about huge potential traffic impacts for the entire day."

The protest by Mexican teachers, who are demanding better wages and benefits, could affect as many as 30,000 to 40,000 commuters. Even when the ports of entry reopen, it could take up to four hours to get through, about twice as long as on a busy weekend.

About 130,000 vehicles cross the border in both directions on a typical day, and traffic generally increases 15% to 20% on a holiday weekend, Cartagena said.

Motorists are encouraged to avoid the area until the protest is over, he said. If they do travel toward the border, they will be rerouted via California 905.

Traffic heading north from the L.A. area will find itself squeezed on the 5 Freeway, the state's main north-south artery, five miles north of Castaic.

One of the freeway's four northbound lanes will be closed, as it has been for the last 18 months, while repairs continue on a hillside rendered unstable by heavy storms. Travelers can expect delays as long as 30 minutes, said Caltrans spokeswoman Jeanne Bonfilio.

Those heading to the Bay Area will face another major obstacle once they reach their destination. The heavily traveled San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge will be shut down from tonight to Tuesday morning for repairs, and traffic in the region is expected to suffer.

Getting to Las Vegas will present the usual holiday weekend challenges, said Marie Montgomery, a spokeswoman for the Automobile Club of Southern California.

"The standard time from the L.A. region is four to five hours, and on bad holiday weekends it can be double that," she said. She advised Vegas-bound motorists to delay setting out until Saturday or at least late tonight.

The expected traffic would not deter 41-year-old Vanessa Smith of Riverside, waiting outside University Village Cinemas on Thursday. Neither would Las Vegas temperatures, expected to be well into triple digits.

"I'm going to lounge around Las Vegas and play the slot machines," she said. "It's either going to be inside with air conditioning or out with a pool. That's it. Yeah, it's Vegas, baby."

Many who stay in the Southland will escape to the beaches, where temperatures are expected to remain in the low 80s and upper 70s thanks to a stable high-pressure system to the east of the Los Angeles region. Moreover, surface water temperatures at many beaches are a bit higher than usual, according to Bill Patzert, a climatologist with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La CaƱada Flintridge.

"This is our finale to the summer," said Capt. Terry Harvey of the L.A. County Fire Department's lifeguard division. "I expect millions to be down here this weekend." Altogether, the beaches in L.A. County "will see a million visitors. All the parking lots are going to be full early, the sun is going to be out there early. My recommendation is to have people get out early."

In Woodland Hills, Hung Lai Quon, a 75-year-old retiree, said he will head to the ocean over the weekend, no matter the expected glut of beach-bound traffic on freeways and Pacific Coast Highway.

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