Los Angeles has traffic jitters as “Carmageddon” begins

By Reuters
Saturday, July 16, 2011 0:22 EDT
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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Los Angeles on Friday began closing a crucial freeway, the 405, touching off what officials warn could be a grueling weekend of epic traffic jams that locals have dubbed “Carmageddon.”

The unprecedented 53-hour shutdown, expected to delay motorists for hours on alternate routes with ripple effects on other major highways, will allow crews to demolish a bridge as part of a $1 billion freeway-widening project.

“The day is upon us … the onset of a weekend we’ve all anticipated and we’ve all planned for,” Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa told reporters hours before the shutdown. “We’ve taken unprecedented measures to prepare for the closure and any incidents that may arise as a result.”

Work crews started to block on-ramps and connectors to the 405 at 6 p.m. local time, with full closure of all traffic lanes slated to go into effect by midnight.

Plans call for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, or Metro, to reopen the 405, including ramps and connectors, by 6 a.m. on Monday, officials said.

So while authorities have publicized the closure as a 53-hour operation, traffic restrictions will actually run for as long as 60 hours in all.

Villaraigosa urged residents closest to the planned closure on the city’s westside to “stay at home, to walk … but not to get in their car and add to the traffic.”

In a first for Los Angeles, the city was deploying four emergency medical technicians on motorcycles so they can zip past traffic, Fire Department Captain Alicia Mathis said.

The 10-mile section of freeway slated for closure is used by about 500,000 vehicles on a typical summer weekend, Metro said.


Spillover effects of the closure, with motorists forced to find alternate routes for one of L.A.’s most heavily traveled north-south corridors, are expected to bring gridlock to the surrounding area and backups to nearly a dozen other freeways in a region tightly woven together by high-speed traffic.

Anticipating a traffic mess in America’s second-largest city, L.A. officials opened an emergency operations center, and Metro has offered free service on 26 bus lines and three light-rail lines.

In recent weeks, officials recruited a number of celebrities for public service messages and Twitter campaigns urging motorists to ease the crunch by walking, riding bicycles, taking buses or avoiding the area altogether.

Among those carrying the anti-”Carmageddon” banner were newly cast “Two and a Half Men” star Ashton Kutcher and actor Erik Estrada, who played motorcycle cop Frank “Ponch” Poncherello on the TV series “CHiPs.”

Leisure destinations outside Los Angeles sought to cash in on the traffic angst by offering special “Escape Carmageddon” discount packages.

Charter helicopter companies were selling air “taxi” service to Los Angeles International Airport for well-heeled L.A. travelers fearful of missing pre-booked airline flights to more distant destinations.

For those seeking a more casual bird’s eye view of the traffic carnage, and the dose of schadenfreude that goes with it, Adventure Helicopter Tours was offering 45-minute flights over the area, complete with champagne, for $400 per couple.

(Additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)

Mochila insert follows.

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