LOS ANGELES (CBS/AP) — The event that many feared would be the “Carmageddon” of epic traffic jams cruised calmly to a finish Sunday, with work on the half-century-old Mulholland Bridge completed nearly a full day ahead of schedule and officials reopening a 10-mile stretch of the busy Interstate 405.
Drivers honked their horns and waved from car windows as traffic started moving in all 10 lanes of the freeway just after noon for the first time since being shut down at midnight Friday. There were no major problems since the freeway was closed, despite warnings.
“Mission accomplished!”, exclaimed Mayor Villaraigosa, when he announced that the 405 Freeway was reopening early at a press conference Sunday afternoon.
The mayor praised contractors for working so quickly and thanked city residents for heeding calls to stay off the roads. He also gave credit to news outlets for spreading word about the closure, which had been planned to last for 53 hours.
“A lot is said about the fact that this is the car capitol of the United States of America, the congestion capitol, the city most addicted to the single-passenger automobile,” said Villaraigosa, adding, “And, yet, not enough is said about the people of Los Angeles when they come together, when they decide that we all have to work together to make something work.”
The mayor stressed that officials could not have done this project were it not for the cooperation of residents.
Crews finished demolition work on the bridge at about 7 a.m., toppling two massive pillars. About 4,000 tons of concrete rubble was expected to be removed over the course of the job.
For weeks, authorities warned people that driving as usual this weekend could trigger what had been hyped as an event that could back up vehicles from the I-405 to surface streets and other freeways, causing a domino effect that could paralyze much of Los Angeles.
But the fears of epic traffic jams dissipated with only light weekend traffic.
Officials said during the closure there were 65 percent fewer automobiles on freeways in the LA metro area, compared with normal weekend traffic.
The California Department of Transportation reopened the freeway in phases. The off-ramps were opened first, then the freeway itself, followed by connectors from other freeways and the on-ramps, the mayor said.
The I-405 could be completely open as early as 3 p.m., according to Metropolitan Transportation Authority spokesman Dave Sotero.
Demolition work previously was expected to be completed by 2 a.m. Monday, followed by cleanup and reopening of the freeway at 5 a.m., with on-ramps and connectors all reopened by an hour later.
The project picked up its apocalyptic name when Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said at an early June new conference that “this doesn’t need to be a Carmageddon” if people avoided driving.
On Sunday, Yaroslavsky jokingly dismissed the phrase that took on a life of its own. “Carmageddon, Shmarmageddon!” he declared.
“I think people in L.A. have learned that you can get along without having to take long car rides on a weekend,” the supervisor said.
The mayor agreed.
“I think everyone has realized that we can get out of our cars once in a while and survive,” Villaraigosa said.
He added that he loved hearing reports of people venturing out in their neighborhoods on foot, meeting neighbors, and making time for family dinners and barbecues.
Another closure will be required in about 11 months to demolish the north side. Officials said they were hopeful that the future shutdown would run just as smoothly as this one.
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