With a load of furniture for his daughter, John Barbieri of San Pedro headed north on the 405 Freeway on Saturday morning for the first leg of a trip to San Luis Obispo.
Traffic moved well past Los Angeles International Airport, and he decided to try going over Sepulveda Pass rather than take alternative routes that would cost him time and money. U-Haul, he said, charges by the mile for the trailer he was towing.
Just before Sunset Boulevard it looked like Barbieri's luck had run out. His speed plummeted to 3 mph as five lanes of traffic started to merge into the two open lanes over the pass. Was this the dreaded Jamzilla, the mother of all bottlenecks?
After moving at a glacial pace for a few minutes, Barbieri moved into one of the two open lanes a little after 10 a.m. He accelerated to 25 mph, then 30, then 45 past Getty Center Drive. His worst fears failed to materialize.
"It's going smoothly. People are being courteous and the CHP is out," Barbieri said. "I am glad I took the gamble. It would have taken much longer to go through downtown L.A."
Jamzilla was anything but monstrous Saturday morning.
Despite some slowing, traffic continued to move smoothly on the 405 through the Sepulveda Pass area, where improvements to the northbound freeway have required lane closures over the President's Day weekend.
Once motorists were through about a mile stretch of merging traffic, normal travel speeds resumed, especially past the Mulholland Bridge and down the hill into the San Fernando Valley.
"It was well managed," said motorist John Berggren, who added that he was pleasantly surprised after hearing the warnings about lane closures as he drove up from San Diego.
The shutdowns will allow workers to pave and restripe the highway where a carpool lane is being added.
Jamzilla is the name transportation officials have given the freeway closure. It recalls the full-freeway weekend closures of 2011 and 2012, which gave workers time and space to demolish the Mulholland Bridge.
The first of those closures gave rise to the apocalyptic term "Carmageddon." The Southland survived the loss of drive time relatively unscathed.
For Presidents Day weekend, "we wanted to come up with a term that would be like Carmageddon in its ability to influence the public," said Dave Sotero, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which is managing the $1.1-billion freeway-widening project.
This closure, he said, is similar to Carmageddon but affects only the northbound side. Three of five northbound lanes between Getty Center Drive and Ventura Boulevard will be closed during the day.
They are the three lanes closest to the freeway median, where workers will be paving. The remaining two lanes, Sotero emphasized, will not be able to accommodate the usual 405 traffic, nor will Sepulveda Boulevard be able to handle spillover during the day.
Southbound lanes will be unaffected during the day, but one or two lanes will probably be closed at night, Sotero said.
Metro and the California Department of Transportation are advising motorists to scope out alternate routes and to monitor traffic conditions via Twitter, Facebook, news reports and Metro's 405 project website.
The Getty Center, which is located in the hills immediately west of the 405, is advising visitors to expect congestion this weekend. As part of the project, the center's entrance is being redesigned. However, it will be open throughout the construction.
One of the busiest highways in the nation, the 405 typically carries about 300,000 vehicles a day. In a bid to ease its notorious congestion, Metro and Caltrans in 2009 began preliminary work on the final 10-mile leg of a carpool lane through the pass.
In addition to completing the northbound "high-occupancy vehicle" link between Orange County and the San Fernando Valley, the project called for building new on- and offramps, demolishing and rebuilding three bridges, and adding miles of retaining and sound walls.
Officials initially forecast completion of the carpool lane by spring 2013. The timeline was later nudged to December 2013, then to summer 2014.
Sotero said the project team picked Presidents Day weekend because it was the earliest three-day weekend that would enable Kiewit, the contractor, to complete the project this summer.