4:00am

Mon July 18, 2011
NPR Story

L.A. Drivers Ecstatic I-405 Re-Opens Early

Los Angeles officials have reopened a major interstate freeway that was closed for construction. Fearing traffic jams of epic proportions, many drivers stayed off the roads over the weekend. But cars were back on Interstate 405 a day ahead of schedule.

At noon on Sunday, the first cars and motorcycles of the weekend drove honking and cheering through a stretch of I-405 that was closed at midnight Friday. It was originally scheduled to be reopened Monday morning, but construction crews finished demolishing a bridge to make way for a new car pool lane 17 hours earlier than expected.

"Carmageddon, schmarmageddon," said L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yarovslavky, who had coined the term carmageddon to warn Angelenos of possible traffic nightmares due to the freeway closure.

But many of the streets and freeways were blissfully empty much of the weekend.

"A lot of people in Los Angeles have learned you can get along without taking long rides in their cars on weekends this past couple of days," Yarovslavky said.

And, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said the early reopen saved Los Angeles $400,000 in construction costs.

"The people of this town didn't get in their cars, they stayed home or walked to wherever they wanted to go in their neighborhood, and as a result, this has gone much better than anybody could have imagined," Villaraigosa said.

Police and fire crews had been poised to respond to any emergency caused by the closure, but the only incidents that happened were minor.

"A couple of cyclists, a jogger and maybe a skateboarder or two," said L.A. Police Chief Charlie Beck. "There may have been a total of eight. Just people that were overly curious, and wanted to trespass on the freeway."

Before the freeway reopened, Mark Kramer brought his baby boy and took photos of the empty freeway.

"It just being so quiet, it really is surreal," Kramer commented.

Amy Haim, her husband and two young daughters also watched the construction crews finish up. "They did a great job," Haim said. "I mean, look. We can follow directions. Angelenos, we stayed out of way. Who doesn't want to zip around L.A. with no traffic and everyone's in a good mood. I thought it was fabulous."

Around the city, some people took public transportation, and celebrated the event with Carmageddon parties.

Jet Blue took passengers like Ezra Horn from Burbank to Long Beach on flights that cost just $4.

"The pilot told us the flight was going to be 22 minutes but he's going to try and do it in 14," Horn said. "He ended up doing it in 12. And if you look at the flight path, he actually flew in an S-shape to fly the whole plane over the 405 freeway to give everybody an eyeful of the empty freeways."

On Saturday, five bicyclists calling themselves Wolfpack Hustle even raced against the plane. They rode for nearly 39 miles, mostly on bike paths along the L.A River.

One of the cyclists, actor John Budnoff, said they started out from North Hollywood when Horn left for the airport at 10:50 a.m. "So Wolfpack got there at 12: 24 and the plane landed at 12:51. We just annihilated them so bad," he said.

Budnoff and his teammates say they wanted to prove that cycling in L.A. is definitely a viable means of transportation.

Many Angelenos said they wish the freeway was closed like this every weekend. They'll get another chance to try beating Carmageddon in 11 months, when I-405 closes again to finish the construction project.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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