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Behind the 405 'Carmaggedon': Producers race by car, plane. Who wins?

By Michael Martinez, CNN
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'Carmageddon' race pits car vs. plane
  • Two CNN producers race across Los Angeles during Carmaggedon
  • One drives a car
  • One takes a special $4 Jet Blue flight
  • The course runs from Burbank to Long Beach in California

Los Angeles (CNN) -- This wouldn't be L.A., folks, if there wasn't a manufactured drama behind the drama that's Carmaggedon.

So, two CNN producers decided to hold a cross-town race (after all, they are a competitive bunch) and see who could finish first.

One took a plane: A $4 flight under a special Carmaggedon deal offered by JetBlue Airways.

The other drove a car.

The distance was 37.3 miles -- by car -- between the airports of Burbank, California, and Long Beach, California.

The obstacle to this CNN Great Race was potential gridlock from this weekend's closure of Interstate 405, due to an ongoing $1.2 billion expansion project.

Which would win, car or plane?

On a typical day, it would be a fair race, given Los Angeles' notoriously clogged highways.

But on Saturday, the "Carmaggedon" yielded to a "Carmaheaven" as motorists stayed home. That favored four wheels over two wings.

L.A. drivers avoiding 'carmageddon'
Carmaggedon traffic nightmare
Miles of highway closure

The automobile beat the airplane by 47 minutes.

In fact, the producer who drove the car was returning home by the time the plane arrived.

"This went so smoothly, you can't believe it," Paul Vercammen reported from behind the wheel. His time: "54 minutes in an absolute piece of cake." And that included time lost on taking a wrong ramp, getting some water and messing with camera equipment, he said.

"I would say that if traffic was like this all the time, people would be happy to take such adventures on a Friday," he added.

While the car may have been king on this day, the airplane had the better party.

"Even though Paul won," said producer Lindy Hall, "we are having more fun. I know it. There has been huge receptions at every gate. Tons of food. There's a convivial atmosphere everywhere."

And, she added: "When's the last time you got a gift bag" on a flight?

Maybe one reason the plane lost was because it took the scenic route.

"We flew over the 405, and it was completely empty," Hall said. She added how passengers on the plane even had a bird's eye view of crews tearing down the Mulholland Drive bridge over the 405. Mulholland Drive is often featured in Hollywood films.

The race began at 11:20 a.m. PT, because that's when Hall arrived at the Burbank's Bob Hope Airport, one hour before flight time.

The sold-out Flight 405 (that number is correct) of JetBlue departed at 12:20 p.m. PT, for a trip lasting 45 minutes gate-to-gate, to Long Beach Airport.

But Vercammen enjoyed a fast start, reporting from his vehicle that Los Angeles' highways were a ghost town, relatively speaking.

"I'm getting on the (Interstate) 5 freeway. I believe that most everyone has been intimidated by this Carmaggedon talk," Vercammen said at about 11:30 a.m.

"I don't know how fair this test is going to be," he added.

Shortly after noon, Vercammen was victorious, easily defeating the airplane.

His time was 54 minutes, compared with one hour 41 minutes for Hall.

"While I may be losing this battle, I'm having way more fun," Hall said from the plane shortly before takeoff, describing refreshments and a cake with a depiction of a car-choked 405. On the plane, passengers found on their seats a gift bag that included cookies saying "405," chips and water.

As a longtime Angeleno, Vercammen waxed poetically about the 405, a sentiment shared by many in town: "I avoid the 405 like poison oak, or wild-eyed people you randomly meet on story shoots who want you to pitch their product.

"The 405 is a time bandit, a concrete thief that steals hours as you take agonizing drives in awful traffic."

But not today.