CITYWIDE — Southland officials declared last weekend “Carma-Heaven” after coordination by public safety officials and Los Angeles County residents turned a second closure of Interstate 405 into a non-event.
Local freeways sported unusually free-flowing traffic as hundreds of construction workers demolished the final portion of the Mulholland Bridge and fixed potholes and other problems along a 10-mile stretch of the I-405.
The work 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.
Although officials warned against hoping for a repeat of July 2011 when the freeway reopened early after the successful demolition of the southern section of the bridge, workers finished up by 11:30 p.m. Sunday and all lanes were open before the Monday morning commute.
That’s despite the fact that they had to take down twice as many 1 million-pound concrete columns that supported the bridge, said Marc Littman, a spokesperson for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
“We’re talking about taking out 12 million pounds of concrete, 300 tons of steel,” Littman said.
The California Department of Transportation also managed to condense five or six weeks worth of repair work into the two-day closure, trimming trees, filling potholes and fixing drainage problems.
All-in-all, 20 trucks of debris had to be taken away. All of it will be recycled, Littman said.
Officials were concerned that the success of the 2011 demolition would spell doom for the 2012 sequel, but people continued to avoid the roads, dispelling fears of traffic backed up as far as the Kern County line.
The I-405 is the nation’s busiest freeway, with 500,000 drivers taking to its lanes on a given weekend causing already-nightmarish conditions.
Like Carmageddon I, locals seemed content to stay at home and take advantage of deals offered by retailers, museums and restaurants as well as the nice weather.
The California Highway Patrol gave out only seven tickets for people trying to trespass on the I-405 during construction.
Santa Monica had some traffic, but most of it came from the popularity of the beach, said Sgt. Richard Lewis, a spokesperson for the Santa Monica Police Department.
No issues were reported.
Things went so well that additional Santa Monica personnel who were on call for the entire weekend were sent home as of 12:30 p.m. Sunday, said Lt. Kenneth Semko, manager of the new Office of Emergency Management.
“Once we found out that everything was running smoothly, we decided to go back to regular deployment,” Semko said.
City Hall’s Buy Local campaign also celebrated a good weekend in a Monday post-mortem.
Businesses reported new clients in response to specials posted especially for the weekend, and the Buy Local website tracked 1,000 hits, said Jennifer Taylor, chair of the Buy Local committee.
“Overall for Buy Local SM, the PR was great for the campaign, helping to raise awareness in the community that Santa Monica has great places to shop, eat and play local year-round,” Taylor said.
Some just stayed home or made local car trips. The number of people who used the Big Blue Bus actually dropped approximately 1 percent from the year before, according to BBB stats.
Others took advantage of the fact that they couldn’t take to the roads and decided to bar hop instead.
UMeTime, a Venice company that helps local businesses sell excess inventory and restaurants fill empty tables, sponsored a pub crawl, giving away 300 bright-orange T-shirts in the process.
All proceeds went to local charity Heal the Bay, said Brett Berman, co-founder of UMeTime.
“The theme was Carmageddon, but it’s kind of a theme to celebrate a weekend where people in L.A., who are driving every single day of their lives … could celebrate staying out of their cars, support local business, stay home and have fun,” Berman said.
Still, more accomplished than a good time.
In a way, Carmageddon was a dress rehearsal for a serious, unplanned emergency. Local and regional law enforcement and emergency personnel reported to a unified command center in Downtown Los Angeles and made sure that the information was consistent and accurate.
“We found out that everything was working smoothly,” Semko said. “It’s better to practice in case anything big were to happen.”
It’s the last chance they’ll get for a while.
There are no more Carmageddons on the horizon, Littman confirmed, although work will continue on the I-405 in the form of on-ramp closures and other inconveniences through 2013.