California drivers had been long warned and now Carmageddon, the sequel, is hours underway.
Ten miles of the world’s busiest freeways have been shut down in Los Angeles since midnight launching a frenzied weekend construction zone transportation officials hope will end as successfully as last year’s first edition.
For weeks drivers have been warned to stay away from the segment of Interstate 405 that will be shuttered through the Sepulveda Pass on LA’s west side for a bridge’s completion planned before Monday morning’s traffic crunch.
If drivers don’t avoid the area, officials warn, a city-wide traffic jam could result prompting city officials to encourage Southern Californians to get out and enjoy their own neighborhoods on foot, on bikes or via short drives on surface streets instead.
During a similar closure last year commuters stayed away from the freeway in droves, the shutdown was considered a success, and crews finished the first phase of the work early.
This time, the contractor faces a hefty penalty if the work isn’t done in 53 hours: $6,000 per lane of freeway every 10 minutes that goes beyond its completion time.
“The penalty is $6,000 per lane of freeway, per 10 minutes. Let’s assume the entire freeway isn’t reopened, that’s $60,000 every 10 minutes,” Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority spokesman Dave Sotero told KCBS-TV.
Meanwhile, TV news crews have a plan to avoid a traffic jam in the sky as they cover the shutdown.
Residents complained of low-flying, noisy helicopters hovering nonstop over the region last year.
“It was constant,” Richard Close, president of the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association, whose members live in many of the homes closest to the freeway, recently told The Associated Press.
“It was a combination of the news media paparazzi and tour operators taking people who wanted to get a picture of the 405.”
Although the area gets its share of paparazzi helicopters because of Charlie Sheen and other celebrities who live in the area, Richard Close said they usually go away when the sun sets.
During Carmageddon, however, the area is brightly illuminated overnight so construction workers can safely do their jobs.
This time, local television news directors have plans to pool coverage by using video from a single helicopter making limited flights over the freeway, according to Rick Terrell, executive director of the Radio & Television News Association of Southern California.
The participating stations include major broadcasters including KABC-TV, KCBS-TV and KTTV-TV.