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California aims to avoid 'Carmageddon' freeway closure

Posted at 3:35 AM, Mar 06, 2020

It could be “Carmageddon II,” and it’s coming to a major freeway near Los Angeles on the last weekend of April.

The question, as Southern Californians fire up their traffic apps, is whether this latest freeway shutdown — of a section of busy Interstate 5 through Burbank — might be subtitled “The Traffic Strikes Back.” Or, as transportation officials hope, “The Motorist Awakens (And Takes an Alternate Route.)”

The section of the major interstate connecting Los Angeles and San Francisco is scheduled to be closed for 36 hours in both directions starting at 3 p.m. April 25, a Saturday. If all goes as planned it will reopen at 3 a.m. April 27, just ahead of the Monday rush hour.

“This will be the largest freeway closure in Los Angeles since September 2012 when we closed Interstate 405 in both directions,” John Bulinski, the state Department of Transportation’s local director, said Thursday. He was referring to the 2012 event that came to be known widely as Carmageddon for fears it would cause traffic chaos.

In the end, the traffic jams that officials feared could have gridlocked the entire city that weekend never materialized as people got the word and stayed away.

That’s what officials were hoping will happen again when they scheduled a news conference Thursday on a hilltop parking lot in Burbank overlooking a section of Interstate 5 that, not surprisingly, was jammed with traffic.

“There is large potential to affect not only traffic in the Burbank area but in the greater Los Angeles area,” said Capt. Tai Vong of the California Highway Patrol. “So if you absolutely do not need to be on the I-5 Freeway in this area during the closure, please just stay away.

”We’ve been through this ... with Carmageddon,” Vong continued, noting how in 2012 the hundreds of thousands of people who normally use Interstate 405 every day just went elsewhere.

“And the mass traffic chaos everybody predicted never materialized.”

As Interstate 405 was, Interstate 5 is being closed as construction workers tear down a bridge so they can widen the freeway and add a pair of carpool lanes.

The $350 million project will provide 13 miles of continuous carpool lanes through a notoriously congested roadway that 230,000 vehicles traverse daily.

As they did in 2012, transit officials will be posting freeway signs 50 miles or more away warning people to exit the 5 before they get to Burbank. Officials rattled off a number of alternate routes that will get motorists around Burbank or even get them there, although it may take a little longer than usual.

If they don’t take the routes, officials say, they could end up backing up traffic so far it will block all of them, making it difficult to impossible to get to stores, hospitals and even the Hollywood Burbank Airport.

“We are a little concerned,” said Jay Desai, one of the managers of Bob’s Discount Furniture, which overlooks the section of freeway that will be closed. The store doesn’t plan to close, however, but is getting the word out to customers to take other ways in.

Edgar Sanchez, who washes windows in the area, says he’ll either stay away that weekend or plan another way in.

“It’s always best to plan ahead and find solutions rather than problems,” he said.