L.A.'s "Carmageddon" that never was nears early end

LOS ANGELES Mon Jul 18, 2011 5:53am EDT

Cars pass through dust as the 405 freeway reopens ahead of schedule after the partial demolition of the Mulholland Drive bridge in Los Angeles, California July 17, 2011. REUTERS/David McNew

Cars pass through dust as the 405 freeway reopens ahead of schedule after the partial demolition of the Mulholland Drive bridge in Los Angeles, California July 17, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/David McNew

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Construction work along a closed Los Angeles freeway was finished sooner than expected on Sunday and officials said they would reopen the road later in the day, bringing an early end to the city's much-hyped "Carmageddon" traffic crisis.

"Anything that lets us give the freeway back to the motorists is a dream come true," said Judy Gish, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Transportation.

A 10-mile (16 km) section of Interstate 405 between two of the nation's busiest freeway interchanges was shut down on Friday night to allow for demolition of a bridge as part of a $1 billion freeway widening project.

The unprecedented closure originally was scheduled to last until about 6 a.m. PDT on Monday, a schedule that likely would have wreaked havoc on much of the city's morning commute.

But Gish said demolition work was completed early and transit crews were cleaning up debris before final inspections of the work were conducted. She said a gradual reopening of the I-405, including its ramps and connector roads, could begin on Sunday as early as 11 a.m. PDT, but that could slip into the afternoon.

The shutdown forced motorists to find alternate routes for one of the city's most heavily travelled north-south corridors. It had been expected to bring gridlock to the surrounding area and backups to nearly a dozen other freeways in a region tightly woven by high-speed traffic.

But motorists largely heeded warnings from public officials and public service announcements from celebrities urging drivers to avoid Los Angeles' Westside, averting the anticipated epic traffic jam residents had prospectively dubbed "Carmageddon."

Perhaps the biggest transportation drama on Saturday, the first full day of the closure, was a race between a group of bicyclists and JetBlue Airways, which offered $4 flights between Burbank and Long Beach as a special weekend promotion.

The cyclists made the one-way trip in less than an hour and a half. The JetBlue flight they were racing took just 12 minutes, but one airline passenger who left his home at the same time as the cyclists started their trip, arrived an hour later at the finish line after the added time of commuting to the airport, checking in, going through security and getting lost in a cab.

JetBlue called for a rematch. (Editing by Vicki Allen)