Traffic light in Los Angeles despite "Carmageddon"

LOS ANGELES, July 16 Sat Jul 16, 2011 1:55pm EDT

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LOS ANGELES, July 16 (Reuters) - A Los Angeles freeway shutdown dubbed "Carmageddon" that city leaders have warned about for weeks failed to slow morning traffic in the region on Saturday, but officials remained cautious.

The unprecedented weekend shutdown of a 10-mile (16-km) stretch of the 405 Freeway could, in a worst-case scenario, delay motorists for hours on alternate routes with ripple effects on other major highways.

The shutdown will allow crews to demolish part of a bridge for a $1 billion freeway widening project.

Despite the worries about Carmageddon, a catchphrase description that has seized the motoring public's imagination, traffic flowed easily on freeways Saturday morning.

"We don't want to claim victory at the moment, but it appears as though people are heeding the call that we issued to stay away or stay home," said Dave Sotero, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. "But it's not over yet."

Work crews started to block on-ramps and connectors to the closed stretch of the 405 Freeway on Friday evening, and plans call for it to be reopened on Monday by 6 a.m.

Los Angeles is famous for its car culture and residents' heavy dependence on getting behind the wheel to drive to work and recreate, due to the city's relatively vast expanse and the meager public transit options in many areas.

As a result, the freeway shutdown had many residents in America's second-largest city worried. Some booked hotels to avoid getting caught in traffic while commuting for work over the weekend.

On a typical weekend, 500,000 vehicles file through the stretch of freeway that is closed for the project, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, or Metro. (Additional reporting by Jason Kandel; Editing by Jerry Norton)

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