LOS ANGELES – For motorists, Interstate 405 in Los Angeles has become a highway to hell. The 10-mile stretch that links the west side of Los Angeles to the San Fernando Valley is clogged nearly 24 hours a day, making it one of the busiest sections of freeway in the world, and with the freeway seeming to be in continual gridlock, many motorists dread the drive “over the hill.”
“Our goal right now is to try and move more people,” says Mike Miles, a director for the California Department of Transportation, the agency overseeing the roadway and the high-profile construction project this weekend that aims to end the gridlock.
But to facilitate the $1.3 billion project, the state has to shut down the freeway from early Saturday morning to early Monday morning, as Southern California braces for what's being affectionately dubbed "Carmageddon.”
Los Angeles officials at a recent news conference didn't try to sugarcoat what's coming this weekend:
“A closure like we've never seen in this area.”
“Everyone is going to be impacted.”
“It will be an absolute nightmare.”
“Stay the hell away from the 405.”
Other north-south highways and canyon roads are expected to be at a standstill as drivers look for other routes. Eventually, the newly widened 405, set to open in 2013, will spell relief. At least that's the theory.
“When this particular 10-mile stretch of freeway is completed, we'll have the largest car pool lane in the world. It'll be approximately 50 miles,” Miles said.
If you do the math, drivers in the car pool lane, when it's completed, will be able to save a minute a mile, and for a culture built around the car, time saved means time shaved off a normally brutal commute.
Adam Milstein owns South Restaurant, a few car lengths from the shutdown. “I think the general consensus is no one really knows what to expect," he said.
And that has many businesses in and around Los Angeles shutting down or changing hours for the weekend. Yet some business owners like Milstein also are embracing the driving dilemma and hoping to capitalize on the congestion.
“We are doing the Gridlock Martini. It's $3," Milstein said. "The Road Rage Cocktail, that's $3. The Bud Stoplights, which is just a Bud Light draft with a cherry in it ... stop light red. ... It's all I could come up with.”
More than a half million cars use this stretch of freeway on any given summer weekend. Not only does it link Los Angeles International Airport to the north, but it's also a main thoroughfare to Southern California's famous beaches.
Streets signs have been posted as far as 350 miles away, in Northern California, warning drivers about the shutdown and expected gridlock. It's safe to say, any road trip through the region this weekend won't be a day at the beach.