LOS ANGELES (AP) — Los Angeles drivers avoided the dreaded "Carmageddon" — utter gridlock — on the first day that one of the busiest highways in the nation was shut down for repairs. But can the car-crazy city control itself one more day?
Experts weren't sure.
Officials were elated that the public got the message to stay off the roads Saturday as a 10-mile stretch of Interstate 405 was shut down. But some were concerned the lack of gridlock would make drivers complacent and spur them to return to the road before Monday's scheduled reopening.
"We hope they still listen to what we're saying and not go out and try to drive through this area, because it is going to be congested if people do that," said Mike Miles of the California Department of Transportation.
Authorities closed a highway segment on the western side of Los Angeles at midnight Friday for 53 hours to allow partial demolition of a bridge. Many feared that would paralyze traffic in Los Angeles, a city where residents love their cars.
For once, the hype was worse than the reality.
"It's been one of the most quiet Saturdays I've seen in forever," said resident Steven Ramada.
Demolition work is expected to be completed by 2 a.m. Monday, followed by cleanup and reopening of the freeway at 5 a.m., with on-ramps and connectors all reopened by an hour later.
Project contractor Kiewit Infrastructure West will face a $6,000 fine in each direction for every 10 minutes of delay in getting the freeway reopened.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa flew over the city in a helicopter and said it was clear there were far fewer cars on the freeways and streets than normal, but he cautioned there were hours to go still.
Progress on demolition of the half-century-old Mulholland Bridge was on schedule, Villaraigosa said. Powerful machines with long booms hammered away at the south side of the span, which is being removed to allow construction of an additional freeway lane. The plan is to leave the north-side lanes standing until the south side is rebuilt. Another closure will be required in the future to demolish the north side.
"We've made great progress," Villaraigosa told reporters at the city's emergency operations center.
Gail Standish, 47, pedaled from Beverly Hills with her bicycling club to a 405 overlook.
"Everybody's calling this weekend Carmageddon, but seeing the freeway empty it feels more post-apocalyptic," Standish said.
The potential for a "Carmageddon" traffic jam is rooted in Los Angeles' geography. The city is divided by the Santa Monica Mountains, which stretch more than 40 miles (64 kilometers) from near downtown westward through Malibu. The populous San Fernando Valley lies on the north side, and the Los Angeles Basin sprawls to the south.
Local and long-distance freeway traffic through the mountains has to squeeze through Sepulveda Pass on I-405 or about five miles to the east through Cahuenga Pass, which carries U.S. 101 through the heart of Hollywood. In between there is just a few narrow, windy canyon roads.
The drumbeat of warnings about the weekend triggered an instant industry of businesses trying to capitalize. JetBlue offered special flights from Burbank in the San Fernando Valley to Long Beach, with seats for the short hop costing just $4 or $5.
A cycling group saw that as an opportunity for a race.
Cyclist Stephan Andranian said it took the bikers one hour and 34 minutes to complete the ride from Burbank to Long Beach, largely following the Los Angeles River. Jet Blue flight passenger Joe Anthony's total travel time including cab ride from Long Beach Airport to the park was just over 2 1/2 hours.
"We want to show that using a bike in LA is not only possible but that it can be faster than other modes of transportation," Andranian said.
Many mocked the frenzied language surrounding the closure, especially on Twitter.
"How's everyone coping with this terrifying apocalyptic nightmare of having to ... oh my god ... stay home with your family?!!!" TV host Bill Maher wrote.
Comedian Albert Brooks took was more philosophical in his Tweet: "If we would close the freeways every weekend we would have a great society."
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