Local authorities, residents brace for ‘Carmaggedon’

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Malibu residents are urged to stay in this weekend and avoid canyon roads while a 10-mile stretch of Interstate 405 is closed for construction. A gridlock of 16 miles in each direction of PCH is predicted.

By Knowles Adkisson / The Malibu Times

Part of Interstate 405 will be closed for 53 consecutive hours this weekend for repairs, and public safety authorities don’t quite know what to expect. However, a representative from the Sheriff’s Department, who briefed the Malibu Public Safety Commission last week on possible effects of the closure, predicted gridlock of 16 miles in each direction of Pacific Coast Highway and advised Malibu residents to stay home.

The closing of the 10-mile stretch of the I-405, one of the busiest freeways in the entire country, has been dubbed ‘Carmaggedon’ in splashy front-page stories in many media outlets.

Authorities are urging residents to plan ahead and do their shopping and errands prior to Friday, then stay home from Friday until Monday morning. Businesses are being advised to expect delays for employees coming to Malibu.

Beginning Friday evening, a 10-mile stretch of the northbound 405 will close between Interstate 10 and the 101 Freeway. A four-mile stretch of the southbound I-405 between U.S. 101 and the Getty Center will also close. Ramps will begin closing at about 7 p.m. Friday evening, with freeway lanes to follow around 10 p.m. By midnight the freeway will be completely closed, not to reopen until 6 a.m. Monday morning, July 18.

During that time, construction crews will demolish half of the Mulholland Drive Bridge and reconstruct it. The freeway will be widened by 10 feet and a northbound carpool lane through the Sepulveda Pass will be added in an effort to improve traffic flow.

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Caltrans will be directing detour traffic through Agoura Hills, Calabasas, Chatsworth, Topanga and Malibu to bypass the closure. Authorities expect Topanga Canyon Road, Las Virgenes Canyon Road, Kanan Road and Pacific Coast Highway to bear the brunt of the congestion. Gridlock is expected in those areas as well as all main transportation arteries leading to the 101, 118 and 10 freeways.

Officials say gridlock, in a best-case scenario, could stretch all the way to Las Virgenes Canyon Road. It could be far worse. Or, it could turn out to be a false alarm if enough motorists stay off the road.

Regardless, officials are advising Malibu residents to stay home this weekend.

Sgt. Eric Fox of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, in a recent briefing of the Malibu Public Safety Commission, said gridlock on Pacific Coast Highway resulting from the closure could stretch 16 miles in each direction “in a best case scenario.”

“Our biggest concern is folks going down the 101 realizing that the 405 is closed, they’re going to think they can jump over one of the canyon roads and head on down PCH, and rejoin the 405 off the 10 freeway,” Fox said. “That may be so, but it’s going to take them quite a while to do that.”

In addition, sheriff’s deputies will be manning all the major intersections on Pacific Coast Highway from Malibu to Santa Monica, Fox explained, to keep them clear for emergency vehicles.

“When folks get frustrated, what they’re going to do is they get a yellow light, they’re going to try and cut the intersection, and then they’re going to start blocking those intersections,” Fox said. “So we’re going to keep the intersections clear.”

The Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station is also calling up all of its search and rescue teams, Fox said, to deal with an expected increase in search and rescue calls this weekend.

“We’ll have folks who are unfamiliar with the canyon roads and how to drive them,” Fox said, “causing issues for themselves and for everybody else.”

To increase responsiveness in the event of accidents on canyon roads, the department will also be deploying significant numbers of officers on motorcycles. Fox said the heavy buildup of law enforcement personnel would also provide resources “in the unlikely situation where there is a wildfire in the area” during the 405 closure.

Lt. Jim Royal, the sheriff department’s liaison to the City of Malibu, added that the city would still have its normal complement of sheriff’s deputies patrolling the Malibu area. Deputies will be deployed to relieve those in the field. If the relieving deputies cannot make it to Malibu due to gridlock, Royal said Malibu deputies would work a double shift.

Fox predicted a “terrible” rush hour for commuters returning home on Friday, advising anyone who did not have to return from work at rush hour not to do so. Royal said traffic on Saturday and Sunday would also depend on the weather. If it is hot, residents in the San Fernando Valley may disregard the traffic concerns and head to the beach in order to escape the heat, he said.

While they are preparing for the worst, Fox said authorities were hoping for a scenario similar to the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. Similar doomsday predictions of massive gridlock were expected then, Fox said, which scared people off the roads, and traffic stayed relatively manageable.

Whatever the outcome, Fox called this weekend’s closure merely “a dry run” for an identical one in several months. Fox said county officials are planning to knock down the other half of the Mulholland Drive Bridge in October.

“I think your message to the people of Malibu is just pretend it’s July 4th weekend and just stay home,” Public Safety Commission Chair Carol Randall said.