Love-Hate Affair With The 405

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This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW.

For the million or so people whose daily lives intersect with the 405 freeway as it slices across the Westside, life as they know it has entered a new phase.
A disruptive, terrifying new phase.

In the best of times, the traffic system on the Westside of Los Angeles is a delicate organism on the edge of collapse.

The San Diego Freeway is the heart of the beast, and not just because it lets hundreds of thousands of cars and trucks a day pass through the Westside without ever seeing a traffic light.

The freeway is also a physical obstacle to cross-town travel. A Berlin Wall that keeps drivers from moving between east and west except through a half-dozen clogged openings.

Drivers who’ve been in denial about changes coming to the 405 can no longer avoid facing facts.

The freeway is being torn up to add a carpool lane on the northbound side.

When it’s done, travelers with at least two people in the car will be able to cruise from the Orange County line all the way to the San Fernando Valley.

Add a lane, sounds simple. What’s the fuss? But it’s so much more.

The 405, from the Santa Monica Freeway up and through the Sepulveda Pass, is more than four decades old.

Bridges need to be replaced, water mains moved, sound walls shifted.

On most nights now, lanes and on and off-ramps are closed for prep work. Some nights the entire freeway is shut down for hours at a time.

Even if you don’t go on the freeway, your travel in the area is affected.

Sepulveda Boulevard, the main alternate route that runs parallel to the freeway, is torn up too – necessarily so, not because of any cruel twist of transportation fate. 

Worse, a giant concrete munching machine has begun to tear down the bridge that carries Sunset Boulevard over the freeway – one of the crucial escape routes through the Berlin Wall.

The muncher and the night work will be with us for at least the next three years. And even if you don’t feel any sympathy for the car-crazy Westsiders, don’t think it only affects them.

The 405 is one of the most heavily traveled freeways in the country, and one of the most chronically congested.

Sepulveda Pass has been an important route since at least the summer day in 1769 when the first Spanish expedition into California, led by Gaspar de Portola, climbed through the pass to reach the San Fernando Valley.

Not until the 1930s was an asphalt road pushed through the pass to permanently connect the coast and the valley.

In the early 1960s the freeway opened, and suddenly the canyons and the beaches along Santa Monica Bay were accessible to the whole state of California.

Easy access to the freeway is the biggest reason that Westwood left its village roots behind and became a high-rise mini-city.

The 405 turned Sunset Boulevard and Wilshire into the unofficial commuter highways we know them as today.

So for the next three years or so, if your friends on the Westside are an hour late to every appointment, cut them a little slack.

And if you have a comment on the 405 project, you can stop by the LA Observed page at to post it.

For KCRW, this has been Kevin Roderick with LA Observed.

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