Los Angeles braces for weekend of "Carmageddon"

Thu Jul 14, 2011 8:48pm EDT
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By Jason Kandel

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A city renowned for its traffic is about to face a jam of biblical proportions.

"Carmageddon" is the name Los Angeles residents are giving the inevitable and likely epic traffic tie-up that will result when a 10-mile stretch of the 405 Freeway is closed for construction from Friday night to Monday morning between two of the nation's busiest interchanges.

The unprecedented 53-hour shutdown, expected to delay motorists for hours on alternate routes with ripple effects on about a dozen other major highways, will allow crews to demolish a bridge as part of a $1 billion freeway-widening project.

In a sign that few motorists in America's second-largest city take a breezy attitude toward the closure, Los Angeles plans to open its emergency operations center over the weekend. And L.A.'s public transit agency will provide free service on 26 bus lines and three of its five light-rail lines.

This being Hollywood, officials have recruited several celebrities to warn motorists of the impending gridlock, including pop star Lady Gaga, newly cast "Two and a Half Men" star Ashton Kutcher and "CHiPs" actor Erik Estrada. Their main message: Stay away, or at least stay off the roads.

As Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa once predicted, "It will be an absolute nightmare."

That message has inspired a number of leisure destinations outside Los Angeles to offer special "Escape Carmageddon" discount packages, from a Mammoth Mountain hotel in the Eastern Sierras to a hotel-casino in Las Vegas.

But most people who live and work in and around the gridlock zone have no choice but to hunker down for the weekend.   Continued...

<p>Traffic is seen on the 405 Freeway in Los Angeles, California July 14, 2011. REUTERS/Eric Thayer</p>