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Carmageddon II comes to a close: L.A., restart your engines

Carmageddon Redux on the 405 Freeway ends in time for the Monday commute, with workers having finished extra maintenance during the two-day closure.

September 30, 2012|By Kenneth R. Weiss, Rick Rojas and Alexandra Zavis, Los Angeles Times
  • Traffic flows on the 405 Freeway as lanes reopen Sunday night.
Traffic flows on the 405 Freeway as lanes reopen Sunday night. ( Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles…)

Carmageddon Redux came to an end according to plan before Monday's commute got underway. But unlike last year's freeway closure, which wrapped up an unexpected 17 hours ahead of schedule, this time construction crews used most of their allotted time to make as many improvements to the 405 Freeway as possible, officials said.

While motorists opted for alternate routes, alternate modes of transportation or just stayed home, transportation officials deployed extra crews along the Sepulveda Pass to fill potholes, trim trees and pave three Southbound lanes — weeks of work squeezed into a two-day time frame.

Work crews also contended with a considerably bigger job. The northern span of the Mulholland Bridge over the 405 Freeway that was demolished this weekend was longer than the southern span knocked down last year, and the entire undertaking was more delicate because workers had to protect the newly built portion.

Photos: Carmageddon II

"This was the mother of all public works projects in Los Angeles," said Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, whose district includes the Sepulveda Pass. "This has not been easy."

Workers began removing barriers to the northbound 405 onramps between the 10 and 101 freeways around 8:30 p.m. A slow-moving motorcade of CHP cruisers, lights flashing, led the first procession of vehicles on the newly reopened freeway.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa declared the weekend "a resounding success," speaking in English and Spanish at a press conference at "Camp Carmageddon" overlooking the nation's busiest freeway. It was not just that work crews kept on schedule despite 100-degree heat and other challenges, but that freeway-loving Southern Californians showed once again that they could handle the temporary blockage of a major artery without suffering a heart attack.

"People understood they needed to stay away from the area," Villaraigosa said. "They did what they needed to do to make sure it went as smoothly as it did."

The two-day closure of the 10-mile stretch of the 405 was part of a $1-billion, four-year project to expand the often-choked freeway with a northbound carpool lane. Most of the work requires only an occasional closure of a lane or two. But demolishing the 80-foot-high Mulholland Bridge to make room for the extra lane necessitated a complete closure.

This time, construction crews had to take apart a span that was nearly one-third bigger, said Mike Barbour, director of the 405 widening project for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Crews struggled to demolish four concrete support structures — two more than last year — each encased with 3/4-inch steel to protect against earthquakes. In addition, the demolition proceeded more cautiously than last time to ensure that raining chunks of concrete and steel didn't damage the new bridge under construction.

"We knew it was going to take longer because there was 30% more bridge to demo," Barbour said. "We didn't care as much about getting it done ahead of schedule. We thought it was more important to finish as much work as we can this weekend to save future closures."

To that end, the California Department of Transportation deployed crews to conduct routine maintenance while the freeway lanes were free of cars. Villaraigosa said that decision saved $150,000.

Bonnie Spence, who lives near Sunset Boulevard and the 405, said she was happy the city was taking its time to get more work done. "Just keep going — you've already alerted everyone," she said as she took her dog for an evening walk. But she said she was mindful that the project was far from complete.

"This is going on for another year," she said. "People need to remember to be courteous to their fellow Angelenos."

By early afternoon Sunday, the last pieces of the Mulholland Bridge had been removed and crews began hauling away 2,700 cubic yards of material, including 300 tons of steel, and a four-foot-thick pad of dirt dumped on the roadway to protect it from falling debris. By nightfall, street sweepers were scouring the roadbed, and inspectors were looking for damage before giving final clearance for reopening.

The weekend freeway closure rippled through the community in surprising ways. Reports of crime dropped, as did air pollution, as people left their vehicles at home and set off on foot.

Most daredevils and free spirits resisted the temptation to exploit the empty freeway — apparently heeding the stern California Highway Patrol's warning of "zero tolerance" for pranksters. Authorities made no arrests, and by Sunday night had issued only seven citations: four to a group of inline skaters and three to pedestrians. Two of them were newlyweds hoping to extend their celebration under the pre-dawn harvest moon Sunday.

"Their wedding gift was a citation," CHP Officer Rick Quintero said.

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