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Upcoming 405 closure could trigger a domino effect of gridlock

Officials encourage drivers to stay home, warning of possible cascading logjams on alternative routes.

July 09, 2011|By Dan Weikel, Los Angeles Times
  • Jay Handal, chairman of the West Los Angeles Neighborhood Council and owner of San Gennaro Cafe in Brentwood, predicts that area surface streets are either going to be really OK or a disaster.
Jay Handal, chairman of the West Los Angeles Neighborhood Council and owner… (Anne Cusack, Los Angeles…)

Marcella and Richard Tyler may be in the path of a traffic hurricane many fear will whip around next weekend's shutdown of the 405 Freeway, one of the most heavily traveled interstates in the nation.

The couple's Sherman Oaks neighborhood, near Sepulveda Boulevard, sits in an extended corridor between the San Fernando Valley and West Los Angeles most at risk of becoming clogged with motorists trying to skirt the 53-hour closure of the 405 for construction work.

"We believe the streets will be totally gridlocked. We don't think we will be able to get out," said Richard Tyler, who plans to hunker down at home during the disruption. "We even wonder how the mailman will get around."

Whether "Carmageddon" will paralyze the Los Angeles Basin or turn into a Y2K-style bust as motorists heed warnings to stay off the road is anybody's guess.

But under worst-case scenarios, transportation officials fear the closure could trigger a domino effect of gridlocked surface streets. Sepulveda Boulevard, which roughly parallels the 405, and other major thoroughfares on the Westside and in the San Fernando Valley, Malibu and Santa Monica could become cascading logjams.

The best options are to stick to other freeways or stay home, said Bruce Gillman, a Los Angeles Department of Transportation spokesman. "If people want to go out and drive, they could be putting themselves into a very frustrating situation."

Among the most likely trouble spots, officials say, are the mostly two-lane north-south canyon roads connecting the Valley and western Los Angeles County. Those roads, which traverse affluent neighborhoods like Bel-Air, can bog down in normal weekend traffic.

They include Sepulveda Boulevard, Beverly Glen Boulevard, Benedict Canyon Drive, Coldwater Canyon Drive, Laurel Canyon Boulevard and Cahuenga Boulevard. Despite extensive public warnings to stay away from the area, representatives of some canyon neighborhood groups are dreading a hillside traffic nightmare — or worse.

"It will be bumper to bumper," said Dan Palmer, the emergency preparedness representative of the Residents of Beverly Glen. "Our biggest fear is a fire. The second would be a medical emergency. Lots of my neighbors are planning to be out of town that weekend. I wish I could do that too."

Along the coast, scenic Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu is a tourist and beachgoer magnet on almost any summer weekend. Officials fear drivers angling around the closure to the west — particularly those traveling to or from Ventura and the Central Coast — could overload the highway.

And while Topanga Canyon Boulevard has been designated an alternative route, officials are urging people to avoid that narrow, winding mountain pass, which links Pacific Coast Highway to the Ventura Freeway in the western San Fernando Valley.

To the south, Santa Monica officials are preparing for a potential onslaught of detouring motorists, in addition to the usual throng of summer visitors. Backups are likely near Interstate 10 and the town's busiest freeway offramps — Cloverfield Boulevard and 4th and 5th streets.

The Cloverfield exit, notorious for frustrating delays, serves one of the city's largest commercial districts and would be a good place to avoid, officials say.

Valerie Griffin, chair of the Wilshire/Montana Neighborhood Coalition in Santa Monica, is staying put next weekend but appealed to those planning to travel to her area to "use transit, bicycle and walk."

"One other thing," she added, "they should be polite about the situation."

Robin Gee, a Santa Monica spokeswoman, said the community is bracing "for something like the July 4 weekend, our busiest weekend of the summer."

Crawling cars may not be confined to the Westside. Twelve miles east of the closure, the Harbor Freeway also could be a mess. It will probably capture much of the rerouted traffic, and on Saturday up to 100,000 people are expected to attend a soccer match between Real Madrid and the Los Angeles Galaxy at the L.A. Coliseum, next to the freeway.

To keep traffic moving around the 10-mile closure area, officials say that 70% of the weekend traffic that would normally pass through that section of the 405 must be eliminated or diverted to public transit and other freeways, bypassing surface streets. This means that about 200,000 trips per day have to be canceled or go elsewhere.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials are hoping Sepulveda Boulevard and Westside canyon roads will be used only by local residents. But that seems unlikely.

"There's no way to police that," Dave Sotero, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County MTA, told the Laurel Canyon Homeowners Assn. during a recent outreach session.

Neighborhood groups have asked authorities to prohibit parking on one side of the canyon routes to create lanes where motorists can pull over, partly to let emergency vehicles pass. Palmer said he has not received an answer yet.

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