O.C. girds for 20-hour closure of 405 Freeway
Someone call JetBlue Airways. And Erik Estrada.
In just days, a traffic-swamped section of the 405 Freeway will be closed for miles, sending thousands of cars onto city streets and creating the potential for backups reminiscent of what was predicted in the jittery days of what became popularly known as Carmageddon.
Nearly four miles of the southbound 405 in Orange County will be closed for 20 hours straight starting late Aug. 17 as part of a $277-million project to link carpool lanes between three mighty rivers of traffic: the 405, 22 and 605 freeways. A stretch of the northbound 405 will also be closed, though motorists who want to brave it will be able to zig and zag their way around that portion of the closure to get back on the freeway.
Officials have dubbed it the Bridge Bash because -- as Orange County Transportation Authority spokesman Joel Zlotnik put it -- “you can’t have a major freeway closure without coming up with a name for it these days.”
Although its neighbors to the northwest leaned on former “ChiPs” TV star Estrada to warn the public about Carmageddon and booked $4 crosstown JetBlue flights rather than brave the roads, Orange County so far has taken a more measured response to its upcoming closure.
“I saw a sign, but I didn’t really pay too much attention,” said Wendy Song, owner of Class Act Cleaners on Westminster Boulevard in Westminster, where many vehicles will be diverted during the weekend closure.
“I didn’t know,” said Katherine Ostrout, an instructor at the Pilates Place, also on Westminster Boulevard. “Maybe we’ll put balloons out, and a sign, ‘Come in and try Pilates since you’re stuck in traffic.’”
Perhaps it’s Carmageddon fatigue. Or local exhaustion inspired by more than two years of construction-related delays caused by the project known as West County Connectors, which began in 2011 and is scheduled to continue through next year.
And though officials have dubbed the Bridge Bash a full freeway closure, that isn’t quite accurate. Motorists going northbound will have to exit at Valley View Street, but if they can find their way onto the westbound 22, which merges with the northbound 405, they can continue on their way.
Still, the potential for serious backups on nearby roads is real. On an average weekend day in the summer, more than 300,000 vehicles pass through the stretch of freeway between Valley View Street and the 605 Freeway that will be disrupted by the bridge demolition -- about the same as travel through the portion of the Sepulveda Pass that was shut down during the Carmageddon closures in the summers of 2011 and ’12.
“Any time you close the 405 in both directions it has the potential to have serious impacts for drivers,” Zlotnik said.
The region’s aging road system means Carmageddon I and II and the upcoming Bridge Bash aren’t likely to be isolated occurrences going forward, said Brian D. Taylor, director of UCLA’s Institute of Transportation Studies.
But as officials try to alert the public, they know that the “Scared Straight” approach to keeping people off the roads isn’t likely to work year after year.
“There’s only so many times you can cry wolf,” Taylor said. Eventually people will stop paying attention.
In order to warn the public, OCTA has sent workers door to door to distribute tens of thousands of fliers, illuminated freeway signs with warnings and contacted businesses. On Thursday, it will hold a press conference in a final effort to get the word out.
One local newspaper, the Orange County Register, is even holding a contest to come up with a catchier name for the shutdown, though the suggestions thus far have been lackluster: Orangeageddon, Carzilla, Clogwork Orange.
Meanwhile, at Starting Gate Restaurant and Bar on Katella Avenue, where southbound drivers will be diverted, owner Carlos Pulido was confident that thousands of cars crowding the road in front of his business were unlikely to materialize.
Even if they did, he said, “my customers will get around it. They’ll find a way to get here.”