Four days after a massive fire broke out under the 10 Freeway in downtown Los Angeles, closing one of the nation’s busiest transportation corridors, morning traffic snarled at the Whittier Boulevard intersection and Soto Street.
Cars and trucks that would normally use the highway were traveling Wednesday through Boyle Heights, where Tony Zapata, 78, was sitting with his friends in Big Jim’s Donuts.
“Especially in the morning and evening, with people coming to and from work, the traffic is terrible,” said Zapata, who has lived in the neighborhood for 36 years.
From inside the store, Zapata watched as a tractor-trailer slowly turned and blocked the road. With all the trucks in the area, he said it felt like more vehicle exhaust was lingering in the air.
“We smell the pollution,” he said. “You can feel it. It’s over.”
As arson investigators search for answers about the fire that damaged the Alameda Street Viaduct, the roughly 300,000 commuters who traveled that stretch of the 10 daily must find alternative routes.
The closure hasn’t caused widespread gridlock on Los Angeles’ freeway system, but it has become a nightmare of traffic, noise and pollution for residents who live nearby and whose neighborhoods have become detour shortcuts.
“It seems like every day there are more and more,” Zapata said, shaking his head.
On Monday, traffic on downtown streets was 15% higher than the daily normal — which jumped to 26% above normal on Tuesday, according to Laura Rubio-Cornejo, director general of the Department of Transportation. Los Angeles Transportation.
And this week’s rains are expected to add new levels of pain.
Mayor Karen Bass urged commuters to use other downtown highways and stay off local streets that are becoming increasingly congested.
“The surface streets look like a real parking lot,” Bass said.
Traffic made it nearly impossible for Guadalupe Hernandez to cross the street with her 9-year-old daughter to Soto Street Elementary School Wednesday morning, she said.
“It’s just terrible,” said Hernandez, 34, raising her voice as trucks passed the makeshift stand where she sells hats and bracelets at Whittier and Soto streets. “It’s not safe for my daughter.”
Even though there was someone in front of campus directing traffic, Hernández said it was still difficult to get her daughter to school.
“The car accidents and the road rage on this street… something has to be done,” she said.
After an early morning delivery in Lincoln Heights, truck driver Freddy Ramirez, 44, pulled off the side of Daly Street to head to his next stop, which was right next to the highway closure.
“I have to find a way to get through this,” Ramirez, who works for grocery hauler F&W Food Services, said over the roar of his truck’s engine as he leaned out the window before take off.
As commuters and neighbors grapple with the closure, it appears initial fears of a traffic nightmare that could last months will be averted.
Tests of core samples taken from the damaged highway overpass showed it would not require total dismantling, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Tuesday.
In a virtual meeting Tuesday afternoon, senior engineers and other Caltrans officials concluded that the 10 could safely open at full capacity early next week as soon as shoring is lifted and the barrier security and night lighting will be repaired.
“Monday or Tuesday if all goes well,” said one of the engineers, who was not authorized to speak publicly and requested anonymity. “Just in time for the Thanksgiving holiday.”
After testing the concrete’s compressive strength, engineers are confident the highway can handle normal traffic loads. While crews are still working to clear debris from beneath the highway, the wooden structure that will support the roadbed around the damaged columns is already under construction.
“We’ve gone from the worst case scenario – demolition and rebuilding, which was on the table for a while – to a situation where it’s just one repair and it’s over,” the engineer said.
Although the repairs are not expected to affect traffic on the highway once it reopens, the work will be extensive. Engineers have identified 45 columns that need to be rebuilt.
In the coming weeks, crews will remove up to four inches of concrete from the exterior of each column. They will replace the embedded steel ties that surround the reinforcing steel rods, or rebar, inside the concrete, then resurface the column with a new layer of concrete.
“It’s going to take time, just because there are so many columns,” said the engineer, who estimates repairs would take at least two months.
Although the total cost of the highway repairs has not been revealed, the project has secured $3 million in “rapid release” federal emergency funds, Caltrans announced Wednesday.
In the coming months, investigators hope to identify what was stored under the highway, an apparent violation of a Caltrans policy put in place after combustible materials stored under Interstate 85 caught fire in 2017 and caused the collapse of part of the highway in Atlanta.
“It all depends on what was under that bridge, how long it had been there and who knew about it,” the Caltrans engineer said. “We shouldn’t have been in this situation. This was completely avoidable.
As rain moved into Southern California on Wednesday, officials renewed calls for commuters to avoid going downtown or using public transportation if possible. Public transport ridership increased by 10% on Tuesday compared to the daily average; On Wednesday, Bass took the subway downtown and encouraged others to do the same.
A closure of this magnitude will inevitably have ripple effects that extend to surface streets and neighborhoods along the detour route, said Michael Manville, a UCLA urban planning professor.
It is almost impossible to predict how commuters will react.
“Keep in mind that you’re talking about millions of individual decisions made by millions of travelers,” Manville said.
Some commuters who turn to public transportation as an alternative might decide to stick with it after several weeks. Others will detour by car but face traffic jams on surface streets, and there will be even more people carpooling.
The question remains whether people will return to the highway once the repairs are complete or whether they will turn to public transportation more regularly.
This may seem like a glimmer of hope for train and bus services, whose ridership has declined compared to the pre-pandemic era. But a massive fire shouldn’t be the way to draw more people onto public transportation, Manville said.
“From a broader social protection perspective, it is difficult to welcome the destruction or temporary destruction of an infrastructure that many people depend on every day,” he said.
Los Angeles, after all, is organized around highways and cars moving on them.
“Even when they are crowded, they are often the quickest way to make trips of a reasonable length,” Manville said. “It is entirely possible that for the typical traveler who was on the 10 during the morning rush hour, whatever adaptation they make during this closure will really be inferior to being on the 10 .”
Los Angeles Times