Carmageddon! Los Angeles Braces for Traffic Chaos

L.A.'s road widening project will shut down Interstate 405 for 53 hours, potentially leading to a traffic jam of apocalyptic proportions. Photo by Atwater Village Newbie

In a $1 billion road widening project, Los Angeles will shut down its Interstate 405 next weekend (July 16-17) to all commuters. Eleven miles of the freeway will shut down for 53 hours so that the city can tear down Mulholland Bridge in order to expand the lanes from four to six.

The 405 carries 500,000 vehicles on a given weekend. With the road blocked for construction, officials fear that the ensuing traffic may spill over to local streets and surrounding highways. In order to avoid the traffic, city officials are warning residents of major delays and urging them to stay home or get out of town.

Coined “Carmaggedon,” the anticipated chaos of traffic has spawned its own website (sponsored by the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce), Twitter account and Facebook page. The website even has a clock, counting down the seconds until the shutdown.

The road widening project is an attempt to help curb L.A.’s notorious congestion. But as we previously reported, more and bigger roads do not solve congestion. More roads mean more cars, simply adding to the already existing congestion and contributing to air pollution.

However, out of this commotion was born something of value. Upon reporting the news of Carmaggedon, The New York Times started a discussion on whether a similar shutdown during construction would work in New York City. “Would it be feasible to completely close several miles of a major city highway, like the Brooklyn-Queens, Gowanus or Major Deegan Expressways, for major repair work? Would such a short shutdown be less disruptive in the long run than frequent closings for resurfacing on a single lane or section of a lane, or for pothole filling and patchwork?” asked the newspaper’s “Room for Debate” page.

A few experts have already chimed in on the debate. Julia Vitullo-Martin, a senior fellow at the Regional Plan Association and the director of its Center for Urban Innovation, said she thinks a full closure instead of single lane shutdown for incremental repairs saves money and is safer for both workers and drivers. Sam Staley, the director of urban and land use policy at the Reason Foundation, agrees. “Full-lane closings have proved to be less costly, less disruptive to traffic and business and faster when carried out with careful planning and foresight,” he explains.

How about you? What has been your city’s experience with road closures during maintenance and construction?

Watch L.A.’s public service announcement about Carmaggedon featuring Erik Estrada.


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