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Elon Musk hates 405 Freeway traffic, offers money to speed widening

April 25, 2013|By Martha Groves
  • Traffic crawls along the northbound 405 Freeway during rush hour in Westwood. The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority has formally acknowledged a delay of at least 13 months in completion of the 405 widening project. The projected date for completion is now mid-2014.
Traffic crawls along the northbound 405 Freeway during rush hour in Westwood.… (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles…)

Entrepreneur Elon Musk has already spent $50,000 trying to make the 405 Freeway better – and he’s willing to pay even more.

Musk said he is open to pay the cost of adding workers to the widening project "as a contribution to the city and my own happiness. If it can actually make a difference, I would gladly contribute funds and ideas. I've super had it."

In July, the PayPal and Tesla Motors co-founder met David Murphy, a Westwood resident who heads Angelenos Against Gridlock, a group seeking to hasten the development and repair of infrastructure in California and nationwide. The two shared traffic frustrations, and Musk contributed $50,000 toward an effort to hurry the 405 project along. So far they have little to show for it.

Musk quips that it's easier getting rockets into orbit than navigating his commute between home in Bel-Air and his Space Exploration Technologies factory in Hawthorne.

DISCUSSION: Delays on the 405 widening

"The 405 … varies from bad to horrendous," he told the Los Angeles Times in an interview. "It just seems people in Los Angeles are being tortured by this.… I don't know why they aren't marching in the streets."

The massive project to widen the 405 Freeway is not only causing traffic nightmares for motorists like Musk but has also been plagued by cost overruns and delays.

Transportation officials say the project is now slated to take at least a year longer than first anticipated and cost about $100 million more than the originally budgeted $1 billion.

The companies handling the work won kudos when they were able to reopen the freeway ahead of schedule during the so-called Carmageddon events in 2011 and 2012. But that masked a larger problem for the main contractor, Kiewit, and the subcontractors.

Officials now aim to complete the bulk of the project by June 2014, with work on the problematic middle segment between Montana Avenue and Sunset Boulevard lasting perhaps until fall 2014, according to Michael Barbour, the veteran engineer overseeing the project for the L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

The delays and cost overruns are raising the ire of residents and local officials, who say the project is causing major disruptions throughout the already traffic-clogged Westside.

"This project has been horribly managed," said Zev Yaroslavsky, Los Angeles County supervisor and board member of Metro, which is running the project. "The performance of contractors has left a lot to be desired.… They've shown a complete lack of sensitivity and empathy for the community in which they're doing the work."

Asked why he and other elected officials have not publicly prodded the contractor to enlist more workers and equipment to speed the project, Yaroslavsky said: "Where's the money going to come from? This project is over budget by a considerable amount, and Metro hasn't figured out how it's going to cover the cost overruns, let alone incur additional costs."

Several factors have driven the delays, including the structural failure of miles of new sound walls that had to be demolished and rebuilt, a legal wrangle over the placement of ramps near the Getty Center and the complex logistics of finding and relocating more than a dozen utility lines under Sepulveda Boulevard.

All the while, Kiewit was instructed to keep traffic moving on one of the nation's busiest highways.

Kiewit released a statement Wednesday defending its work.

"The costs and schedule impacts are the result of the project's overall complexity and the significant challenges associated with multiple unexpected utility and right-of-way issues," the firm said. "Kiewit and Metro are committed to working together to minimize future delays and resolve final costs. We ... are committed to delivering the highest-quality product on the I-405 project."

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martha.groves@latimes.com

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