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Upcoming 405 closure could trigger a domino effect of gridlock

Marcella and Richard Tyler may be in the path of a traffic hurricane many fear will whip around next weekend’s shutdown of the 405 Freeway, one of the most heavily traveled interstates in the nation.

The couple’s Sherman Oaks neighborhood, near Sepulveda Boulevard, sits in an extended corridor between the San Fernando Valley and West Los Angeles most at risk of becoming clogged with motorists trying to skirt the 53-hour closure of the 405 for construction work.

“We believe the streets will be totally gridlocked. We don’t think we will be able to get out,” said Richard Tyler, who plans to hunker down at home during the disruption. “We even wonder how the mailman will get around.”

Whether “Carmageddon” will paralyze the Los Angeles Basin or turn into a Y2K-style bust as motorists heed warnings to stay off the road is anybody’s guess.

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But under worst-case scenarios, transportation officials fear the closure could trigger a domino effect of gridlocked surface streets. Sepulveda Boulevard, which roughly parallels the 405, and other major thoroughfares on the Westside and in the San Fernando Valley, Malibu and Santa Monica could become cascading logjams.

The best options are to stick to other freeways or stay home, said Bruce Gillman, a Los Angeles Department of Transportation spokesman. “If people want to go out and drive, they could be putting themselves into a very frustrating situation.”

Among the most likely trouble spots, officials say, are the mostly two-lane north-south canyon roads connecting the Valley and western Los Angeles County. Those roads, which traverse affluent neighborhoods like Bel-Air, can bog down in normal weekend traffic.

They include Sepulveda Boulevard, Beverly Glen Boulevard, Benedict Canyon Drive, Coldwater Canyon Drive, Laurel Canyon Boulevard and Cahuenga Boulevard. Despite extensive public warnings to stay away from the area, representatives of some canyon neighborhood groups are dreading a hillside traffic nightmare — or worse.

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“It will be bumper to bumper,” said Dan Palmer, the emergency preparedness representative of the Residents of Beverly Glen. “Our biggest fear is a fire. The second would be a medical emergency. Lots of my neighbors are planning to be out of town that weekend. I wish I could do that too.”

Along the coast, scenic Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu is a tourist and beachgoer magnet on almost any summer weekend. Officials fear drivers angling around the closure to the west — particularly those traveling to or from Ventura and the Central Coast — could overload the highway.

And while Topanga Canyon Boulevard has been designated an alternative route, officials are urging people to avoid that narrow, winding mountain pass, which links Pacific Coast Highway to the Ventura Freeway in the western San Fernando Valley.

To the south, Santa Monica officials are preparing for a potential onslaught of detouring motorists, in addition to the usual throng of summer visitors. Backups are likely near Interstate 10 and the town’s busiest freeway offramps — Cloverfield Boulevard and 4th and 5th streets.

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The Cloverfield exit, notorious for frustrating delays, serves one of the city’s largest commercial districts and would be a good place to avoid, officials say.

Valerie Griffin, chair of the Wilshire/Montana Neighborhood Coalition in Santa Monica, is staying put next weekend but appealed to those planning to travel to her area to “use transit, bicycle and walk.”

“One other thing,” she added, “they should be polite about the situation.”

Robin Gee, a Santa Monica spokeswoman, said the community is bracing “for something like the July 4 weekend, our busiest weekend of the summer.”

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Crawling cars may not be confined to the Westside. Twelve miles east of the closure, the Harbor Freeway also could be a mess. It will probably capture much of the rerouted traffic, and on Saturday up to 100,000 people are expected to attend a soccer match between Real Madrid and the Los Angeles Galaxy at the L.A. Coliseum, next to the freeway.

To keep traffic moving around the 10-mile closure area, officials say that 70% of the weekend traffic that would normally pass through that section of the 405 must be eliminated or diverted to public transit and other freeways, bypassing surface streets. This means that about 200,000 trips per day have to be canceled or go elsewhere.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials are hoping Sepulveda Boulevard and Westside canyon roads will be used only by local residents. But that seems unlikely.

“There’s no way to police that,” Dave Sotero, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County MTA, told the Laurel Canyon Homeowners Assn. during a recent outreach session.

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Neighborhood groups have asked authorities to prohibit parking on one side of the canyon routes to create lanes where motorists can pull over, partly to let emergency vehicles pass. Palmer said he has not received an answer yet.

Some have broader concerns. In addition to the canyon routes, Jay Handal, chairman of the West Los Angeles Neighborhood Council, contends that traffic could become gridlocked on such streets as Barrington Avenue, Bundy Drive and Sawtelle Boulevard.

“It is either going to be really OK or a disaster,” he said. “But based on our comfort level dealing with the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, MTA and Caltrans, our bet is on the disaster. On a good day, we are a mess with cut-through traffic trying to get to the 405. This time there is no 405 to get to.”

Officials are promoting a series of alternative routes intended to spread 405 traffic over a wide area of the region, mainly involving long, circular paths to the east. The recommended north-south links include Interstates 5, 605 and 710, in combination with east-west freeways, including the 101, 10, 105, 210, 60, 118 and 134.

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But delays could occur because of those routes as well, officials say. “There is no question there will be more traffic than usual. Expect big delays wherever you go,” said John Yang, head of Caltrans’ traffic management office in Los Angeles.

MTA, Metrolink and other transit agencies hope to ease the burden on freeways by adding bus and rail service as an option for motorists. Local public safety agencies will increase the number of traffic officers on duty and position paramedics and firefighters in neighborhoods that could be affected by detouring motorists.

Officials have alerted neighborhoods near the closure of potential problem spots and recommended alternatives for trucking and delivery companies, including FedEx and UPS. Warning signs have been placed on highways from San Diego to the Oregon border.

Travel agencies, public officials and some airlines serving Los Angeles International Airport are warning passengers about the shutdown and recommending they use public transit and the LAX FlyAway bus service, which shuttles travelers from parking hubs in Irvine, Van Nuys, downtown Los Angeles and Westwood directly to airport terminals.

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University of California officials are taking steps to ensure that the Ronald Reagan-UCLA Medical Center and the Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center remain adequately staffed by rearranging work schedules. Elective surgeries are being postponed and hundreds of dorm rooms and apartments on and off the UCLA campus are reserved for staff members and the families of patients.

“From the get-go, we’ve been hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst,” said Shannon O’Kelley, chief operating officer for the UCLA Health System. “I plan on getting a sleeping bag and a mattress pad so I can stay in my office that weekend.”

The UCLA campus currently has only a fraction of the enrollment and activity it does during the regular school year. But officials are still canceling events, rescheduling extension classes and providing living arrangements for students who want to remain on campus for the weekend.

Efforts also have been made to control traffic heading to major Westside destinations and events. However, Susan Coss, director of the Eat Real Festival planned in Mid-City, said she is unhappy with what she considers MTA’s late notice of the closure and warnings that people stick close to home.

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“It’s hard when you’ve invested a lot of time and money into creating an event,” said Coss, who added that she has had to scramble to replace 10 food vendors who dropped out because of the closure.

At the Brentwood Community Council, chairwoman Nancy Freedman noted there are many “ifs” in predictions surrounding the shutdown and spoke of the need for perspective.

She expressed hope that a major traffic snarl might not materialize, recalling the 1984 Summer Olympic Games, when traffic management measures and warnings of doom led to greatly reduced travel on Los Angeles freeways.

“We might get lucky. You’d have to live on Pluto not to have heard about the 405,” she said. “Fortunately, we are used to some of this. On a normal day, it’s gridlock around here. In some cases, it could be traffic as usual.”

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dan.weikel@latimes.com

Times staff writer Martha Groves contributed to this report.


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