LOS ANGELES – Southern Californians were making the ultimate sacrifice Saturday to avoid the dreaded “Carmageddon” – leaving their cars in the garage.
Unusually light traffic flowed freely through the nation’s second-largest city despite fears of epic traffic jams spawned by the 53-hour shutdown of a 10-mile stretch of one of the region’s most critical freeways.
Authorities closed the segment of Interstate 405 on the western side of the metropolis to allow partial demolition of a bridge, warning motorists to stay off the roads or plan alternate routes.
Officials were optimistic that the public far and wide had gotten the message, though there was some concern that the lack of gridlock would make the public complacent and that drivers would get behind the wheel before the freeway’s scheduled reopening early Monday.
“We hope they still listen to what we’re saying and not go out and try to drive through this area, because it is going to be congested if people do that,” said Mike Miles, a district director of the California Department of Transportation, known as Caltrans.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa flew over the city in a helicopter and said it was clear there were far fewer cars on freeways and streets than normal, but he cautioned at a midafternoon news conference that there were hours to go.
“It’s been one of the most quiet Saturdays I’ve seen in forever,” said Steven Ramada, who had expected to hear lots of cars honking in front of his Sherman Oaks home but instead only heard news helicopters.
“Everyone’s calling this Carmageddon weekend, but it feels like copter-geddon over where we live,” he said.
Not everyone was cooperating, though.
California Highway Patrol Officer Charmaine Fajardo said a 74-year-old man was arrested for jogging on the closed freeway after police told him he couldn’t do so, and one or more bicyclists also were intercepted on the route. Fajardo said officers now have orders to arrest anyone trying to enter the shuttered freeway.
Additionally, a suspected drunken driver was arrested after going around barricades to enter the freeway, Fajardo said.
Progress on demolition of the half-century-old Mulholland Bridge was on schedule, Villaraigosa said. Powerful machines with long booms hammered away at the south side of the span, which is being removed to allow the interstate to be widened. The plan is to leave the north-side lanes standing until the south side is rebuilt.