In an effort to alert motorists to the traffic nightmare that might arrive when the 405 Freeway is closed next month, officials have pulled out all the stops: news conferences, advertising, email blasts and warning messages on seemingly every electronic freeway message board in the region.
But this being Hollywood, officials are also turning to celebrities.
The Los Angeles Police Department on Wednesday said it has requested that celebrities with large Twitter followings —actors, musicians and professional athletes — send out messages helping authorities get the word out. Officials want the celebrities not only to urge their followers to avoid a 10-mile stretch of the roadway the weekend of July 15 but to encourage them to stay close to home.
The LAPD said it is making contact with representatives for Lady Gaga (nearly 11.3 million followers), Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore (7 million and 3.7 million respectively) and Kim Kardashian ( 8 million followers). None of the celebrities have sent out warning tweets yet, but officials hope they will do so closer to the closure dates.
"The whole idea is just to re-message the theme of avoiding the 405 area and that it's going to be a mess if people don't stay away," said Lt. Andy Neiman, an LAPD spokesman. "The other message is to take advantage of this weekend to shop, meet some neighbors you never met before, finish that home improvement project you never got around to finishing or have a block party."
The LAPD is hoping star power will help illuminate the issue, especially for those who don't get their news through traditional means like television, radio or the newspaper, Neiman said.
"Twitter is a way to reach that whole demographic that could be oblivious to the 405 closure for that weekend," Neiman said.
Neiman said the LAPD hopes that if the celebrities don't mention the closure directly, they can at least make a passing reference to themes they want to hit home — in other words "plan ahead, avoid the area or stay home."
The celebrity Twitter campaign is one part of a larger effort by officials to alert the public to the 405 closure. They've embarked on an ad barrage on TV, radio and in newspapers that will intensify in the coming weeks. Politicians and government agencies are being urged to Tweet and email bulletins. Officials have also asked Google Maps, MapQuest and GPS firms to include closure information.
During the July weekend, the northbound 405 will be closed for 10 miles between the 10 and 101 freeways, and the southbound 405 will be closed for four miles between the 101 and Getty Center Drive. The work is part of a larger $1-billion freeway improvement project that includes constructing a 10-mile northbound carpool lane that will complete a link between Orange County and the San Fernando Valley.
Crews will use the time to demolish the south side of the Mulholland Drive bridge and then spend about 11 months doing bridge reconstruction on the south side. After that, crews will demolish the north side of the bridge, which will require another extended freeway closure.
There has been much concern that the unprecedented closure could cause gridlock around the region. Four major Los Angeles hospitals last week expressed concerns that the shutdown could cause major problems for their patients because medical employees might not be able to get to work on time. The current 405 closure plan forces hospitals to "play roulette with our patients' lives," said Posie Carpenter, chief administrative officer at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center, in an interview this week.
LAPD and transportation officials have disputed the hospitals' concerns, saying they believe workers will be able to get to their jobs.
Neiman said the message is the same whether it comes from Lady Gaga or a local homeowner organization: "Plan ahead, avoid the area or stay home."