In Los Angeles they’re calling it “Carmageddon”: closing ten miles of the San Diego Freeway, the fabled “405,” from West LA to the San Fernando Valley, for fifty-five hours over the weekend to tear down a bridge as part of a freeway widening project.
Half a million cars usually take that route over the weekend, and it won’t be easy to find alternate routes, since the freeway crosses the Santa Monica mountains in one of only four passes, and the other three are two-lane streets.
The construction project will add one carpool lane northbound—at a cost of $1 billion. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said, "It’ll help reduce congestion on one of the busiest freeway corridors in the region." But freeway experts and many commuters know that adding a lane never works. As soon as people find out it’s there, more cars head for the freeway, and it ends up just as congested as before. This is an indisputable scientific fact.
In my experience of thirty years of commuting on the 405 between West LA and Irvine, fifty-five miles each way, only one thing has significantly reduced traffic: the closing of the aerospace industry following its peak in 1987. That meant fewer people going to work at the McDonnell Douglas and other plants in Torrance, Huntington Beach, and El Segundo. The one thing that reduces rush hour traffic is unemployment. Firing tens of thousands of aerospace workers cut my commute time by five minutes. It wasn’t really worth it.
And of course LA could use $1 billion for the public schools, which sent layoff notices recently to 3,000 teachers, cutting $400 million from the budget.
People who live in the Valley and work on the weekend in West LA or Santa Monica—say, nurses at UCLA hospital—will have real problems this weekend. The legendary Santa Monica Farmer’s Markets on Saturday and Sunday will still be going—the See Canyon Fruit Ranch people from San Luis Obispo, for example, told me today that on Saturday they would be taking the Coast Hiway instead of the freeway to Santa Monica to bring their legendary Blenheim apricots to the market.
LAX will be operating, of course, but when I asked an Armenian airport cab driver for Beverly Hills Taxi what his strategy would be, he said, “Stay home.” He lives in Glendale, twenty miles away.
Staying home is what officials are telling everybody to do. “A good day for gardening and barbecuing” is the line. And with the American women in the World Cup finals Sunday morning at 11 LA time, TV sports will be better than usual. (The hapless Dodgers will be out of town, in Arizona, but on TV both Saturday and Sunday nights, for those who haven’t given up after owner Frank McCourt filed for bankruptcy two weeks ago.)
The other way to spend the weekend is watching the freeway bridge demolition on TV. Once the 405 is closed Friday night, eighty-five trucks will dump a fifteen-foot-deep bed of sand on the freeway underneath the bridge “to keep the lanes from being damaged by falling debris.” Then the bridge will be cut down the middle, longitudinally, and the pieces will be knocked down. "Falling concrete pieces should be no larger than basketballs," they say. Then the sand and the bridge pieces will be carted away, and the freeway will reopen Monday morning at 5 am.
Does anyone think this might not work?
Right now folks in LA are chuckling over the YouTube video of Hitler ranting about how hard it will be for him to get to LAX on Saturday to pick up his cousin.