Preparing for Carmageddon

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This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW.

It's finally here – the week when we find out how Southern California gets by without our busiest freeway.

You must have heard by now about Carmageddon – the traffic apocalypse that many expect to occur when the 405 shuts down for the weekend on Friday night.

If you haven't heard about it yet, well…you'll soon hear more than you ever wanted to know about the San Diego Freeway.

It's being hyped and ballyhooed and hyped again.

But here's the thing. It's not necessarily over-hyped.

This really is a big deal -- with an uncertain outcome. And not just for people who live near the freeway.

Most weekend drivers on the 405 aren't local to the Westside or the canyons.

The 405 is the nation's most traveled freeway, according to federal statistics.

Not just for commuters -- but for passengers at LAX, vacationers headed for San Diego, truckers from Bakersfield and Seattle.

On weekends, about 500,000 drivers use the freeway in the affected stretch.

Where that is is over Sepulveda Pass, the gap through the Santa Monica Mountains.

At the top of the pass, the Mulholland Drive bridge needs to be torn down and rebuilt. The freeway has to close for 53 hours because it's not safe to have cars underneath while a giant machine pounds holes in the concrete bridge.

And in a pass, there are no easy detours. So the 405's going to shut down for ten miles. From the Santa Monica Freeway to the Ventura.

That means a whole weekend worth of interstate freeway traffic has to find another way over or around the mountains.

That's where the rest of us come in.

Smart drivers will be dissuaded by all the official scaremongering. Signs as far north as the Oregon border are advising motorists to drive AROUND Los Angeles. Not through it on the 405.

But some percentage will be on the road anyway. LAX alone needs 20,000 workers to come to work this weekend.

Officials worry about the drivers who blindly get on the 405. They will jam up in long lines to be diverted to other freeways.

Then there are the drivers who spill off the freeway and invent their own street detours, through Hollywood or Downtown.

Or who head for the canyons – Beverly Glen, Coldwater, Laurel Canyon, even Topanga.

Don't even think about Sepulveda Boulevard.

This is how seriously the LAPD and LAFD are taking Carmageddon.

They're putting cops, fire trucks and paramedics right into neighborhoods -- across the Valley, Westside and the hills.

It's the only way they can be sure of answering calls if the traffic apocalypse hits. Some medics will even be on motorbikes.

This might all go OK, like it did during the 1984 Olympics – when enough drivers adjusted that traffic vanished.

After the 1994 earthquake broke parts of the 10 and the 14 freeways, traffic was bad. But there was no talk of Carmageddon.

Closing Sepulveda Pass is a tougher nut. Thankfully it's just for the weekend. I plan to stay home. What about you?

Go to to tell your story.

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