When Orange County resident Art Patino first saw the warning signs about the 405 Freeway closure, he advised fellow motorists to be patient.
The plan, dubbed the Bridge Bash, called for a four-mile stretch of the southbound freeway near the L.A. County line to close at 9 p.m. Saturday and reopen at 5 p.m. Sunday so a Caltrans demolition crew could remove a connector bridge. Motorists were advised to use alternative routes, suffer through a maze of detours on surface streets or, better yet, simply avoid the area altogether.
But the demolition work went faster than predicted and the freeway was opened two hours early, with relatively minor traffic backups.
"People don't like change," said Patino, 60, a retired roadway construction worker. "But when the highway repairs are done, they love it."
After 10 months of preparation, workers removed the 50-year-old bridge that connected the southbound 405 and the eastbound 22 freeways. The work is part of a $277-million project to link carpool lanes of the 405, 22 and 605 freeways.
The entire deck of the 700-foot bridge was down by 3:51 a.m. Sunday, and all demolition work was completed by 9:30 a.m., said Sarah King, a Caltrans spokeswoman. The debris was broken up and piled alongside the roadway.
More than 100 steel plates used to protect the freeway from 3,600 tons of falling concrete were then removed and the roadway inspected before it was reopened, King said. There were some traffic delays on nearby Westminster Avenue, Studebaker Road and other surface streets, but things went well overall.
King said Caltrans worked with local communities to ensure that area traffic signals were synchronized and detour signage was put in place to minimize problems.
"Thankfully, we didn't encounter any snags, and everything happened according to the plan," she said. "Over the 10-month planning process, we scrutinized the schedule until it was down to a T — and it all went off without a hitch."
Shortly before 3 p.m. Sunday, several law enforcement vehicles led the first wave of motorists on the reopened stretch of the southbound freeway. The northbound lanes opened about 10 minutes later.
David Richardson, another Caltrans spokesman, said the main reason the freeway opened early is because the contractor budgeted extra time for demolishing the bridge in case of any unexpected problems. "We built a timeline that accommodated all possibilities," he said.
Although officials planned for the worst, the demolition went smoothly. Richardson also credited the speedy work to the 70-plus crew members who worked nonstop around the clock.
"To not have any problems, get done early and accomplish all of our major objectives — it's definitely been a good day," Richardson said.