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Wilshire Boulevard north 405 freeway on ramp on Tuesday afternoon. (photo by Brandon Wise)

WILSHIRE BLVD — While it doesn’t sound as menacing as “Carmageddon,” the extended closure this Friday of Wilshire Boulevard on- and off-ramps along Interstate 405 — dubbed “Ramp Jam” — promises to create serious delays for commuters and could impact residential streets near the major thoroughfare, officials said this week.

Commuters are being warned to allow more time to travel to and from work and to consider joining van pools or work from home if possible to avoid being stuck in traffic for possibly hours at a time.

The demolition and reconstruction of eight, heavily-traveled ramps at Wilshire Boulevard is part of the 405-Sepulveda Pass Improvements Project, which includes the creation of a 10-mile carpool lane on the northbound side of the 405 between Interstate 10 and U.S. Highway 101.

The ramps will be rebuilt in phases, with the first phase, kicking off June 22, expected to take as long as 90 days. The entire ramp project should last roughly one year, county transportation officials said.

Once built, the reconstructed Wilshire ramps will be seismically updated and be able to handle more capacity. The project should ultimately reduce congestion in the surrounding area by meeting traffic demands estimated for 2031.

Officials said safety will also be enhanced. Currently, the way the ramps are configured presents a “dangerous weave situation” at the Wilshire westbound on-ramp to the southbound 405, and the southbound 405 off-ramp to eastbound Wilshire Boulevard.

“At both these locations, drivers struggle to reach a through-freeway lane or change lanes to reach the off-ramp exit within a very short distance,” read a statement from the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. “New flyover ramps at these locations will be built to physically separate vehicles and eliminate these conflicts.”

In Santa Monica, city officials said they have been meeting with major employers who are required to reduce car trips. The goal is to keep them informed and help them find alternative modes of transportation.

City staffers have also been briefed.

“We’re just trying to get the word out to as many people as we can about the closures, as well as some things people can do to make things easier for them,” said Jacquilyne Brooks, a transportation management coordinator with City Hall. “We are encouraging all employers to have a plan in place rather than waiting until the last minute.”

City officials don’t expect traffic inside Santa Monica to be impacted significantly, but they will monitor travel times to see if adjustments need to be made.

A positive outcome of Ramp Jam could be more commuters getting out of their cars in favor of public transit, biking or van pooling, said Sam Morrissey, City Hall’s principal transportation engineer. If commuters grow accustomed to alternative forms of transit, they could adopt them for the long haul and further reduce traffic congestion throughout the Southland.

“Events like this are a good way to help get the word out and get people to try new things,” Morrissey said.

So far, Linda Paradise Lyles is having a hard time getting people to take Ramp Jam seriously. Lyles of Paradise Consulting works with 26 businesses in Santa Monica and more in Century City on reducing car trips by their employees. She said those she has talked to about the closures are taking a wait-and-see approach.

“Most of them right now are still not grasping the significance of this,” she said. “They’re going, ‘Oh well, that ramp is closed. I’ll just take another one.’ Well, that means everyone else will be using that one, too.

“Next week, my phone will probably be ringing a lot.”

Lyles recommends employees set up van pools. There’s money available from Metro — as much as $400 per van pool — to help cover some of the costs, and certain business will even put some money toward the purchase of bus passes or the establishment of car pools.

If employees can work from home or at offices in the San Fernando Valley or other areas of the county, that could work also. As could taking some vacation time.

But even taking the bus or van pooling may not reduce travel times, Lyles said, but they could provide for some stress relief and allow commuters some free time to read, work or just relax.

“While they may not have a shorter trip, at least they can be more productive,” she said. “And there’s a little bit of comfort that comes with riding with others. Misery does love company. People like being able to complain about traffic with others in the same situation.”

Ninety-day closures for the first two Wilshire Boulevard ramps are as follows:

• Westbound Wilshire on-ramp to the northbound 405. Detour: Motorists should travel northbound on Sepulveda Boulevard to access the Moraga Drive on-ramp or travel southbound on Sepulveda to access Santa Monica Boulevard on-ramp.

• Northbound 405 off-ramp to westbound Wilshire. Detour: Motorists should exit the freeway using the Santa Monica Boulevard off-ramp, then proceed northbound on Sepulveda to Wilshire Boulevard. Other alternatives include the off-ramp at Sunset Boulevard. Also as an alternative, vehicles traveling northbound/westbound on the 405/10 will be directed to exit at Bundy Drive to reach their original westbound Wilshire destinations.

All recommended detours are on major city streets. Motorists should not use local residential streets to detour through the area, as these streets are intended for local access only, county transportation officials said.

Six other Wilshire ramps will be closed consecutively, some two at a time, lasting between 14 and 90 days. A closure schedule for these remaining ramps will be announced at a later date.

Because of the importance of ramp reconstruction work to the ultimate completion of the project, the contractor will be working night and day, officials said. This schedule will enable the work to be performed and completed as quickly as possible and will shorten the duration of traffic impacts.

To help manage impacts for the closures, a network of changeable message signs will be used to facilitate detours and provide motorists with information that will give drivers the opportunity to choose an alternate route.

Initially, traffic control officers will be at key intersections to help keep traffic moving, particularly during peak travel periods. As traffic patterns develop, traffic officer deployments will be adjusted accordingly. The timing of traffic signals will be monitored closely by the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, which can make adjustments to manage traffic conditions.

Officials want motorists to plan ahead and monitor traffic conditions using go511.com. They should also see if their employers will let them come in later to work.

Metro.net offers an easy way to plan a commute using public transit, and Ridematch.info allows people to see what car pools or van pools are in their area. Commuters can also call (323) GO-METRO (323 466-3876) Option 3, for assistance in setting up a ridesharing relationship.

The $1 billion freeway improvement project is a joint effort between Metro and Caltrans, and is being constructed by Kiewit Infrastructure West Co. It is scheduled for completion in 2013.

For the latest updates visit the project website at www.metro.net/405 or follow the project on Twitter: twitter.com/I_405 and Facebook at facebook.com/405project.

kevinh@smdp.com

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