When the dense westside traffic ground to a halt for a construction project one weekend last year, Mabel Escoton saw only two customers enter her pet shop. When the traffic shuts down for a repeat this Saturday, she’s throwing in the dog towel and closing her doors.
“We’re thinking it’s going to be very bad,” says the owner of Mabel’s Dog Grooming on Sepulveda Avenue near affluent Bel Air. “We’re going to close the store because there will be no way to get in.”
Los Angeles is preparing for the sequel to its “Carmageddon” weekend of July 2011, when a planned construction shutdown of a 10-mile stretch of Interstate 405 on the city’s west side, one of the nation’s busiest freeways, sparked fears of a traffic meltdown spreading from that chokepoint across the region.
Taking heed of the dire warnings of city leaders then, the public responded by staying home, producing Southern California’s easiest driving weekend in memory, with none of the tie-ups on alternate routes that had been feared. But it was an economic disaster for businesses such as Escoton’s and thousands of others along or near the affected route who saw their usual weekend clientele vanish.
This time the city has toned down the rhetoric, reducing the fear level but still urging people not to be lulled into complacency. They suggest shopping and exploring closer to home this weekend.
“Obviously the city has softened its stance,” says Jim Bak, community relations director at INRIX, which provides traffic forecasting and analysis for governments and business nationally. “It’s not such a doom-and-gloom car Apocalypse. … Businesses were hurt by this. People stayed away all weekend and almost became shut-ins.”
Ground zero for the shutdown is the Sepulveda Pass, where I-405 flows northward past Westwood, Brentwood, Bel Air and other expensive canyon neighborhoods on the western side of Los Angeles, past the Getty Center hilltop museum and back down to the San Fernando Valley. The shutdown stretches along I-405 from its intersection with I-10 to U.S. 101.
It is being closed for the second phase of a project replacing a bridge overpass that crosses the freeway. Crews working around the clock knocked down one side of the bridge in July 2010; this weekend the freeway is shutting down in both directions so that the rest of the bridge can be demolished to make way for its replacement.
The bridge work is part of a larger project widening and improving access to the freeway, including completing car pool lanes that will reach from the San Fernando Valley southward into Orange County.