LOS ANGELES (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 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.
The freeway stretch passes through a canyon that connects the occasionally sweltering San Fernando Valley to the more temperate westside and its tony beach communities.
Businesses ranging from JetBlue Airways to a bagel shop have offered Carmageddon-themed deals. For JetBlue, the special was $4 flights between Long Beach Airport, at the south end of Los Angeles, and Bob Hope Airport 30 miles to the north in Burbank, allowing commuters to bypass the 405 Freeway.
Just as it has been on Saturday morning, traffic was light on Friday evening through much of Los Angeles, as onlookers near the 405 Freeway gazed at its eerily empty lanes.
"Los Angeles has done a great job tonight in staying home, staying out of their cars, avoiding the congestion," Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky told a local television news station in an interview near the freeway.
The $1 billion freeway widening project is expected to be completed in 2013, and the bridge demolition is just a small part of that undertaking.
On Friday evening, Rene Bernescut and his wife Irene watched the project from an overlook and took pictures.
Rene said he saw the freeway open in 1962, and he is not optimistic the widening project would fully relieve the traffic that clogs the canyon pass on a typical day.
"Two years from now, we'll be in the same condition," he said..
Additional reporting by Jason Kandel; Editing by Jerry Norton