LOS ANGELES (AP) —A freeway facelift has caused so much gridlock on one of the nation’s busiest highways that commuters are tweeting their complaints while driving. Or while stuck in traffic.
The normally congested Interstate 405 is undergoing a $1 billion upgrade that is making a freeway already notorious for bottlenecks even worse. While officials promise long-term improvements, drivers are complaining of a three-year headache until the project is slated to finish in 2013.
Since construction began earlier this year, traffic has gone “from horrible to horrendous,” said Jack Johnson as he filled up at a gas station off the freeway. “I try to avoid it like a pest.”
The freeway, known locally as the 405, connects the city’s west side to the San Fernando Valley through a canyon in the Santa Monica Mountains called the Sepulveda Pass. On a typical day, about 300,000 vehicles use that section of freeway to get to major destinations such as the airport, the University of California, Los Angeles, beach communities and major job centers.
The interchange connecting the freeway with Interstate 10 on the south side of Santa Monica is among the worst in the country, with vehicles averaging 11 mph during peak hours, according to traffic data provider Inrix Inc.
Officials said that adding a 10-mile, northbound carpool lane and rebuilding three bridges and ramps connected to the freeway will improve the traffic flow. But construction requires detours, slowdowns and occasional shutdowns of lanes that have put wary drivers on edge.
This week, demolition of a bridge by the Skirball Cultural Center has led to a flurry of e-mail alerts, news reports, blog postings and Twitter updates to help drivers prepare for the late-night lane closures.
“When you close down the freeway, there’s always a fear of major traffic snarls,” said Dave Sotero, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. He stayed up past midnight during the first night of demolition to monitor journalists and photographers reporting on any major traffic disruption.
There was none, he said.
“When you go back to the beginning, the traffic was bad out there,” said Mike Barbour, who is directing the project for the MTA. “What’s bad to begin with we made it a little bit worse.”
However, he said the agency does as much as it can to keep the freeway open and functioning.
The MTA staff has been coordinating with the Getty Center and the Skirball along the freeway to ensure that construction doesn’t conflict with major events that could bring in hundreds of visitors to those institutions. It is also trying to resolve conflicts with community members upset about the reconstruction of ramps to the Skirball bridge.
Still, drivers say daytime activity has impacted their commute and many start their day hours earlier to beat sitting in traffic.
Jason Felderman said a trip from his home in Van Nuys to his job at a cafe shop in Santa Monica usually takes 15 minutes — if he leaves at 5 in the morning.
“When I leave at 2 p.m., my return trip can take up to an hour,” Felderman said. “It’s no wonder a lot of people stop by in the afternoon to get coffee and wait out the traffic.”
On Twitter, tweets light up during the morning and afternoon commutes as drivers curse about moving at only 5 mph, or about the traffic causing missed appointments. Some express doubt that the extra lane will improve traffic.
Johnson, who lives in the tony Bel Air neighborhood east of the freeway, said he tries to take “secret” routes on surface streets to avoid the freeway, though he admits lately those roads are getting filled up.
“It’s kind of bad all over,” he said.
Some businesses by the 405, though, see an upside to traffic as drivers exit the freeway to wait for the traffic to die down.
“We’ve had people come in who said they were trying to kill some time,” said Mike Corcoran, manager of 4 Play Gentleman’s stripper club right next to a freeway onramp. “The visuals here are much better than what’s out there.”
A local radio traffic reporter who’s been tracking the freeway’s conditions for 6 years said construction hasn’t caused any epic jams or catastrophes as some predicted.
“As big of a project as it is, so far it’s not as bad as we all thought,” Cajon Cermak of KCRW-FM said.
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