A stretch of Los Angeles’ Interstate 405 that is considered one of the busiest freeway sections in the nation will be shut down for 53 hours beginning early Friday evening. The closure has local commuters and media asking one question:
Will “Carmageddon” happen this weekend?
The name “Carmageddon” was coined by local news stations that have been running regular reports for weeks that have been intensifying in frequency as the weekend approaches. Some stations are promising “round-the-clock” coverage of alternate route congestion and the potential 64-mile backup.
Announcements warning of the shutdown and possible gridlock approaching this 10-mile stretch of the 405 freeway began weeks ago. Celebrities were encouraged by the Los Angeles Police Department to tweet about it and some, like CHiPs TV star Erik Estrada, went so far as to make a public service announcement with the LAPD.
The local coverage has even the media scratching their heads. Good Day LA’s morning news show host, Steve Edwards, asked viewers during Thursday’s show, “Are we totally over-hyping Carmageddon?”
The question was posed shortly after the show did a live broadcast of one of its reporters taking a drive with a limo driver who knew of a “Carmageddon Secret” alternative route. The broadcast became scrambled as the limo sped up Mulholland Drive.
Late-night talk show host, Jay Leno, spoofed the local news stations coverage of Carmageddon Wednesday evening by showing a video report of "alternative routes" to take, which included hiking up the Santa Monica Mountains, repelling across a canyon, and kayaking down the L.A. River.
However, Southern California officials are taking the matter seriously. Officials are warning tourists headed for L.A. between about 7 p.m. Friday and 5 a.m. Monday to prepare themselves for potentially long delays. They recommend taking advantage of sightseeing alternatives where no car is needed and shutdown-related deals.
Many businesses are offering “Carmageddon Specials.” JetBlue offered Long Beach to Burbank flights, bypassing the 405 altogether, for $4. The flights were quickly sold out. Everything in L.A. seems to have a 405 Freeway shutdown theme, like Carmageddon getaways, food specials, and drinks.
The closure takes place between Interstate 10 and U.S. 101, where freeway crews will add a carpool lane and demolish half of the Mulholland Bridge at the top of Sepulveda Pass.
“We anticipate backups anywhere from 28 to 64 miles," said California Department of Transportation regional director Mike Miles. Traffic flow disruption may take place in Kern and San Bernardino Counties to the north and east and perhaps southward to San Diego County, he said.
At LAX, about 65,000 vehicles arrive or leave the airport every day. Airport officials are asking travelers to make other arrangements, give themselves ample time, book an airport area hotel the night before their flight departure, and not plan on car travel.
So, with all of L.A.’s preparation and all the media hype, the question remains as to whether a total commuter meltdown will occur. There have been some examples from the past that ended favorably.
"When the 10 Freeway was shut down for three months after the 1994 Northridge earthquake, drivers adjusted and life went on," writes LA Times columnist Christopher Hawthorne, and "longtime Angelenos still talk about how light traffic was during the 1984 Summer Olympics, despite predictions of region-wide gridlock."