405 Freeway carpool lane to open Friday in Sepulveda Pass

Written by Rick Orlov for the Los Angeles Daily News

The installation of a 10-mile car-pool lane on the northbound 405 Freeway in the Sepulveda Pass has made headlines for the past five years for the inconvenience to motorists on one of the nation’s most heavily trafficked roadways.

Now on Friday — five months ahead of schedule and just in time for the Memorial Day getaway weekend — construction on the $1.14 billion project is set to be completed, bringing a huge relief to commuters and local officials who have had to hear complaints over rerouted traffic and congestion.

Intermittent full-freeway and ramp closures over the years were affectionately nicknamed Carmaggedon, Jamzilla, Ramp Jam and Rampture.

“People in this part of town have put up with a lot, and it’s finally time for the public to begin experiencing one of the major benefits of this project,” said Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who represents the area and popularized the moniker Carmaggedon for the first 53-hour freeway shutdown to allow for the demolition of the Mulholland Drive bridge.

The feared epic traffic jams were avoided, however, as Angelenos heeded the exhaustive warnings.

“This will create the nation’s longest continuous car-pool lane,” he said. “For the first time, it will be possible for a car-pooler to drive seamlessly from the Orange County border to the 101 Freeway.”

The project was funded with $149 million from the federal stimulus package and funds from other state and local sources, officials said. None of the funding came from Measure R, the half-cent sales tax approved by voters.

Mayor Eric Garcetti has boasted of bringing on Nick Patsaouras as a special advisor on the project, resulting in the early opening of the car-pool lanes.

Over the years, Patsaouras, an engineer, has held a number of posts for mayors dating back to Mayor Tom Bradley. He served on the former Southern California Rapid Transit District board, and as chair of the MTA, he was so influential the agency’s headquarters was named after him.

He also served as president of the board of Water and Power Commissioners and initiated the idea of having a ratepayer advocate for the utility.

Patsaouras sees his job as helping to refocus the project. “I think they had a problem where they had been working too close for too many years,” he said. “They weren’t looking to return the freeway to the drivers.

“When I went in, there was a lot of anger and disagreements. We were able to meet biweekly, and I think that brought a sense of urgency to the project.”

“The 405 is a critical Los Angeles artery that affects millions of drivers,” Garcetti noted. “I’m proud we were able to move this project forward and open the new lane early to provide long overdue relief to commuters and residents.

“When I took office, the construction on the 405 was behind schedule and had become a nightmare ... (Patsouras) brought together all the parties involved, including the contractor, Caltrans and the utility companies, and kept the focus on completing the project as quickly as possible and giving the 405 back to motorists.”

MTA spokesman Dave Sotero said the engineers credit Patsaouras with bringing a new emphasis on planning and construction.

But beyond Patsaouras’ role, Sotero said the process could be fast-tracked through a design-build concept, which allows one entity to provide both design and construction through a single contract.

He added that the region’s lack of rain actually aided the project, allowing the work to proceed with virtually no delays.

The massive project installed a northbound car-pool lane between the 10 and 101 freeways; removed and replaced three major bridges at Mulholland Drive, Skirball Center Drive and Sunset Boulevard; realigned 27 on- and off-ramps; widened 13 existing underpasses, and added 18 miles of retaining and sound walls.

Hilary Norton, executive director of Fixing Angelenos Stuck in Traffic (FAST), said they hope the car-pool lane is just the first phase of traffic improvements along the corridor.

“Getting this done early is important to those who use the freeway and is a credit to the work of Supervisor Yaroslavsky and the mayor, who put so much emphasis on this,” Norton said. “What we would like to see is if the MTA can add an express bus for the car-pool lanes and also develop the express-pass option, where people can pay to use the car-pool lanes.”

Yaroslavsky had called for a report on the addition of express buses on the freeway, with studies needed to find funding for the project.