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'Carmageddon,' the sequel: So far, Los Angeles drivers staying home

By Michael Martinez, CNN
updated 10:10 PM EDT, Sat September 29, 2012
Workers demolish the south side of Mulholland overpass on the 405 freeway during last year's
Workers demolish the south side of Mulholland overpass on the 405 freeway during last year's "Carmageddon."
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Residents appear to be heeding warnings
  • This weekend's closure of Interstate 405 is dubbed "Carmageddon II'
  • The 405 is a critical artery that will be closed for 10 miles through mountains
  • A closure last year was dubbed Carmageddon

Los Angeles (CNN) -- The opening scenes to a massive highway project dubbed "Carmageddon II" have so far been free of traffic jams, officials said Saturday.

The construction project is shutting down this weekend a mountainous 10-mile section of a Los Angeles highway that's one of the nation's busiest freeways. Motorists have been told to stay home to avoid massive gridlock.

"So far, 'Carmageddon II' is an excellent sequel," Los Angeles Fire Capt. Alicia Mathis said.

"Carmageddon II" repeats last year's closure of the same section of Interstate 405, which had been expected to be so apocalyptic that Los Angeles residents labeled the weekend shutdown "Carmageddon."

The theatrical play on words captures Los Angeles' love affair with the automobile -- and its dread of common traffic jams -- but last year's evacuation of the highway went smoothly, causing no paralysis.

The drama is heightened by how the closed portion of the 405 overlaps the Sepulveda Pass of the Santa Monica Mountains -- one of only two major highways over the range.

No major traffic jams had been reported by Saturday evening. A mile-long backup near the south end of the project had been cleared by midday.

Lauren Wonder, spokeswoman for the California Department of Transportation, said residents so far had heeded warnings to stay home or in their communities. Officials continued to advocate the use of public transportation.

Because last year's closure went well, officials were concerned this year about ultra-gridlock out of a fear that motorists may get behind the wheel this weekend out of excessive confidence and complacency.

"The risk factors that caused transportation, law enforcement and emergency response agencies heartburn during last year's I-405 freeway closure have not changed," said Murthy.

The 405, as it's locally called, connects suburban San Fernando Valley with Los Angeles International Airport. It also stretches into the well-to-do neighborhoods of west Los Angeles, such as Bel Air and Brentwood.

Specifically, the 405 was closed between Interstate 10 and U.S. 101.

Crews were taking down a portion of the Mulholland Drive bridge to make room for a wider roadway. The bridge is being reconstructed.

Road crews will continue this weekend's shutdown of the 405 until Monday morning, and the reconstruction is expected to finish on time, said K.N. Murthy, an executive director of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

The highway construction project this weekend will complete a carpool lane system over the mountain pass to create a continuous carpool lane of almost 73 miles in each direction between Orange County and Los Angeles County's San Fernando Valley -- the longest in the world, officials said.

Highway reconstruction will continue until 2013, when the overall $1.34 billion project is scheduled for completion, officials said. Improvements include new bridges and ramps, officials said.

Caltrans maintenance crews were taking advantage of the closure to pack in extensive maintenance, according to Wonder. The list included cleaned culverts, removal of debris, tree trimming, striping and the application of rubber sealant on the roadway.

CNN's Kyung Lah and Phil Gast contributed to this report.

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