Closed portion of 405 Freeway reopened, end of 'Carmageddon' - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Closed portion of 405 Freeway reopened, end of 'Carmageddon'

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    Los Angeles soon to put 'Carmageddon' in rear view

    Sunday, July 17 2011 1:45 PM EDT2011-07-17 17:45:16 GMT
    The event that many feared would be the "Carmageddon" of epic traffic jams cruised calmly toward a finish Sunday, with officials saying a closed stretch of one of the nation's busiest freeways likely would reopen a day early. 
    The event that many feared would be the "Carmageddon" of epic traffic jams cruised calmly toward a finish Sunday, with officials saying a closed stretch of one of the nation's busiest freeways likely would reopen a day early. 

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - The closed portion of the San Diego (405) Freeway in the Sepulveda Pass started reopening shortly before noon Sunday.

"It looks like 11:30 is the time," Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said in a news briefing near the thinned-down Mulholland Drive Bridge.

The offramps were opening first, then the mainline and the onramps, officials said. Connector roads to the Santa Monica (10) and Ventura (101) freeways will open last.

Major demolition on the bridge was completed around 8 a.m., including supporting pillars being removed and the freeway restriped. About 4,000 tons of concrete rubble was expected to be removed over the course of the job.

"Mission accomplished," Villaraigosa said, adding that the early finish would save taxpayers about $400,000, since police and firefighters would not be deployed on another 12-hour shift.

The prime contractor, Kiewit, will get about $300,000 as part of a "time incentive," he said.

Live video showed street sweepers cleaning up the freeway, with lanes mostly clear by 9 a.m.

By the time the mayor's news conference wrapped up, the street sweepers were gone.

Ten miles of the nation's busiest freeway was set to be closed for 53 hours -- until 6 a.m. Monday-- but demolition went faster than anticipated.

And fears of citywide gridlock never materialized.

"Carmageddon: Schmarmageddon," said county Supervisors Zev Yaroslavsky, who spoke alongside the mayor and construction bosses from Kiewit and subcontractor Penhall Co., which handled the demolition.

Motorists far and wide heeded warnings of "Carmageddon" and curtailed their driving.

"The people of Los Angeles have been fantastic," Judy Gish of Caltrans told a local news source. "They heard the message and they took it seriously. They've been so cooperative and that's what has made this whole operation a success."

Yaroslavsky said about two-thirds of motorist who would have been driving took the day off Saturday.

Most Angelenos seemed to have a little fun the freeway closure. A few bicyclists and joggers couldn't resist the carless expanse and were cited and escorted off the freeway.

JetBlue offered a few $4 flights between Burbank and Long Beach. Then, a pack of bicyclists "raced" a JetBlue passenger from Burbank to Long Beach -- and won.

Public safety officials and hospitals near the closed stretch of freeway made emergency provisions. Paramedics had two-person motorcycle teams in place. Metro offered free rides on some bus and subway lines.

The Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center "never had any problems" because of the freeway closure, Posey Carpenter, its chief administrative officer, told a local news source.

"This has been an amazing social experiment," Carpenter said. "People got the word, stayed home and the streets were able to be free for emergency vehicles to move." However, canyon roads flowed smoothly Saturday, as did Pacific Coast Highway and other roads that were expected to take on extra weekend traffic. Even Sepulveda Boulevard, which parallels the closed stretch of freeway, didn't clog up.

All the while, giant "hoe rams" -- powerful jackhammer-like tools -- perforated the steel-and-concrete span, and diamond-bladed saws helped cut the bridge in half lengthwise, leaving half the road, containing infrastructure such as natural gas lines, intact.

Dan Kulka, a Kiewit vice president, said there really wasn't any built-in buffer time.

"When you go to demolish a bridge, who knows what you're going to find inside?" he said.

Traffic remained light this morning on the cross-valley Ventura (101) Freeway and the east-west Santa Monica (10) Freeway. Little known to most motorists, the southbound side of the San Diego Freeway was open at Getty Center Drive and Sunset Boulevard during the closure.

Kiewit, the same company that built the bridge in 1959, supervised the demolition and is overseeing the larger project, which includes another freeway closure next summer, when the other half of the bridge is demolished and a new span is put in place.

In the interim, the narrowed bridge will be just one lane in each direction.

Road crews have had to replace overpasses with wider spans to accommodate a 48.6-mile carpool lane that, when finished in 2013, will run from Orange County to the city of San Fernando.

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