LOS ANGELES – Traffic was light around Los Angeles hours after the start of Carmageddon II, and transportation officials were hoping it stays that way until a bridge is demolished before the Monday morning rush hour.
Construction crews began work early Saturday morning taking down a portion of the Mulholland Drive bridge along Interstate 405, one of the nation's busiest freeways. The bridge and its pillars will eventually be replaced so that the freeway can be widened to include a new carpool lane.
"So far, so good," said Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority spokesman Dave Sotero. "Drivers are staying away from the demolition area."
For weeks Angelenos have been warned to avoid the 10-mile stretch of the 405 that will be shuttered through the Sepulveda Pass on LA's west side for the entire weekend.
If drivers don't stay away, officials warn, a citywide traffic jam could result. But beyond just scare tactics, city officials have been encouraging Southern Californians to get out and enjoy their own neighborhoods on foot, on bikes or via short drives on surface streets.
During a similar closure last year commuters stayed away from the freeway in droves, the shutdown was considered a success, and crews finished the first phase of the work early.
This time, the contractor faces a penalty if the work isn't done in 53 hours.
"The penalty is $6,000 per lane of freeway, per 10 minutes. Let's assume the entire freeway isn't reopened, that's $60,000 every 10 minutes," Sotero told KCBS-TV.
On Saturday, crews used jackhammers to break apart the concrete on top of the bridge and chip away at girders and pylons underneath.
The closed section of the 405 carries about 250,000 motorists each day on an average weekend, according to the Los Angeles Times. Caltrans officials said that in order for Carmageddon II to be a success, at least two-thirds of those drivers need to stay off the road.
Meanwhile, TV news crews have a plan to avoid a traffic jam in the sky as they cover the shutdown.
Residents complained of low-flying, noisy helicopters hovering nonstop over the region last year.
"It was constant," Richard Close, president of the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association, whose members live in many of the homes closest to the freeway, recently told The Associated Press. "It was a combination of the news media paparazzi and tour operators taking people who wanted to get a picture of the 405."
Although the area gets its share of paparazzi helicopters because of Charlie Sheen and other celebrities who live in the area, Close said they usually go away when the sun sets. During Carmageddon, however, the area is brightly illuminated overnight so construction workers can safely do their jobs.
This time, local television news directors have plans to pool coverage by using video from a single helicopter making limited flights over the freeway, according to Rick Terrell, executive director of the Radio & Television News Association of Southern California.
The participating stations include major broadcasters including KABC-TV, KCBS-TV and KTTV-TV.