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Opinion

Opinion: Your 405 exit is closed, but will Metro or Caltrans tell you?

Sepulveda Pass
Traffic streams through the Sepulveda Pass on the 405 Freeway between West L.A. and the San Fernando Valley.
(Los Angeles Times)
Guest blogger

Please God, give me a sign -- because Metro or anyone else working on the 405 Sepulveda Pass project won’t.

And even though the Bel Air Bar and Grill threw a “We Survived the 405 Neighborhood Block Party” this weekend, construction on the 405 continues, causing traffic delays that affect hundreds of thousands of lives daily.

Sure, we get apologies for any inconvenience from the bureaucrats involved in this project and calls for patience from our local politicians. But what we really need are a few signs along the Sepulveda Pass.

Just six of them.

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Let me explain with a personal nightmare that isn’t noteworthy except for that fact that too many of my fellow commuters have similar experiences every day.

I had to take the northbound 405 to get to a parent-teacher meeting at my daughter’s school on Mulholland Drive. When I got to my exit -- Skirball Center Drive -- I couldn’t get off. There were no warnings beforehand of the construction closure, just those menacing orange cones at the ramps. 

I had to drive -- no, live -- in heavy traffic to the next exit and circle all the way back on Sepulveda Boulevard. Because there was construction on Sepulveda, my unexpected detour just to get back to Skirball took 54 minutes.

I know it was 54 minutes because in between calling the school to move the meeting, calling Metro to scream (a live person never picked up), banging my steering wheel, banging my car roof and listening to some spiritual podcast after the classical music didn’t work (harpsichords make me tense), I kept looking at the clock. 

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All this could have been avoided with a simple sign -- “Skirball exit closed” -- placed two exits before.  

I’m no traffic engineer, but it seems to me that if commuters on the 405 have a little bit of warning that the exit they were planning to use is closed for construction, they could use the exit before it.

All we need are three electronic signs strategically placed on each side of the 405, between the 10 Freeway and Ventura Boulevard, that could be updated with the latest ramp closures. Short of that, a bunch of “ramp closed two exits ahead” signs could be moved around by crews every morning. Would that be so complicated?

At public meetings on the 405 project, I’ve asked for better signage. I’ve called Metro, Caltrans, City Council members, the mayor and my county supervisor. But since everyone’s involved and no one’s in charge, I have gotten fingers pointing me in more directions than Dorothy got when she asked the Scarecrow how to get to Emerald City.

Some time ago electronic signs were placed along the 405 warning of ramp closures along the Sepulveda Pass. At first they helped. But then the signs were no longer updated, and it got to the point that they were wrong so often that they became untrustworthy. Now they just warn us not to drive faster than 55 mph.

Metro could simply make these signs useful again, but instead it herds drivers through a traffic jam of information to find out if our exit is closed. We can call the agency to hear a prerecorded message of all daily closures on and off the 405. Try it. It took several minutes for the voice to get to Skirball, and the message was almost incomprehensible.

You can also sign up for Metro’s daily tweets and emails, which are filled with jargon like “HOVs” and “Westbound right turn pocket closed.”

You can go to Metro’s website, where it explains the jargon -- “Su” is for Sunday because “Sun” is for Sunset Boulevard -- and sometimes illustrates closures with small maps that don’t have street names but do have arrows so thick that you can only get a general idea of where they are pointing.

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True, Columbus probably had to use maps that only gave him a general idea of where India was.  But while he became a hero for ending up in America, I will have a mutiny in my car this weekend if, while trying to take my family to the Getty, I end up in Encino 54 minutes later.

Rather than make us read tweets or emails or web pages, or call for prerecorded messages -- none of which we should do while we’re actually driving -- it would make much more sense for Metro to put up six signs on the side of the road that we can read while driving past them on the 405.

Myles Berkowitz is a Westside resident. 

Follow the Opinion section on Twitter @latimesopinion


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