Construction crews are on schedule and traffic tie-ups are minimal in Los Angeles, making for a smooth start to Carmageddon II, the sequel to last year's shutdown of one of the nation's busiest freeways.
Demolition of the center span of the Mulholland Drive bridge along Interstate 405 was nearly complete Saturday afternoon, according to Rick Jagger with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
Crews used giant jackhammers to break apart the three concrete spans atop the bridge and chip away at girders and pylons underneath. The bridge and its pillars will eventually be replaced so that the freeway can be widened to accommodate a new carpool lane.
Traffic backed up for about a mile in northbound lanes of the 405 leading up to the 10-mile stretch through the Sepulveda Pass that is closed until Monday morning. Six lanes of traffic were shoehorned down into one lane ramps eastbound and westbound on Interstate 10. Some surface streets in the closure area were also clogged.
As temperatures climbed into the 90s on Saturday, some inland residents apparently couldn't resist a trip to the beach.
Overall, officials said, the delays weren't dramatic and drivers were mostly staying away.
For weeks Angelenos have been warned to avoid the area on LA's west side. If they don't, 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 fine is $6,000 per lane of freeway, for every 10 minutes over the deadline.
"The whole 53 hours have been scripted like a play, and we're following the script," Metro's K.N. Murthy told KNX Radio.
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 appeared to make good on a promise 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. 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.
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