About 700,000 vehicles use that part of the freeway on any given weekend – and they’ll have to find another way around starting at 9 p.m. Saturday.
By DOUG IRVING / ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
Not just any Orange County freeway is shutting down this weekend. The stretch of I-405 that will go car-free Saturday night into Sunday is the busiest in California, and quite possibly in the nation.
Some 700,000 vehicles use that part of the freeway on any given weekend – and they’ll have to find another way around starting at 9 p.m. Saturday. In a sign of how massive this closure really is, the recommended detours cut through six cities.
405 closure by the numbers
377,500: Average daily traffic on I-405 between the 22 freeway and Seal Beach Boulevard.
20 hours: Anticipated length of closure, during which crews will tear down an old connector-road overpass.
1965: Year that connector from I-405 to eastbound 22 was built.
$700,000: Total cost to demolish overpass.
6 feet: Difference in height between newly built overpass and old overpass.
$277 million: Total cost of ‘West County Connectors’ project, which is connecting carpool lanes among I-405, I-605 and the 22, and which required the overpass to be rebuilt to make room.
Sources: Caltrans, OCTA
By traffic counts alone, this weekend’s closure will rival even the notorious “Carmageddon” closure that gripped Los Angeles in 2011. Orange County transportation officials have dubbed their closure the “Bridge Bash,” because crews will use the freeway downtime to demolish an old overpass.
But Orange County Register readers, challenged to come up with something better, voted to call it the “Orange Jam.” Drivers caught in the traffic and detours might come up with more colorful names for it before 5 p.m. Sunday, when the closure is scheduled to be lifted.
“It’s going to be bad. Very bad,” predicted Jessica Johns, the general manager of the Best Western Westminster Inn, which overlooks one of the major detour routes, on Westminster Boulevard. “Definitely not going to be leaving, I guess, for the weekend.”
Drivers heading north, from Orange County into Los Angeles County, will find the freeway blocked for half a mile at Valley View Street. The best detour is the westbound 22 freeway, which slips past the closure and then merges straight back into I-405.
Drivers heading south will hit the roadblocks at I-605, and this is where the detours get complicated. The southbound side will close for 3 miles; anything shorter would have put Seal Beach Boulevard into play as a detour, and construction has already pinched it to two traffic-locked lanes.
That means drivers will have to get off the freeway and either head south to Westminster Boulevard or north to Katella Avenue and then to Valley View Street.
Project planners say they’re adjusting the timing of stoplights along those detour streets to better handle the added traffic. That’s a lesson they learned last month, when the closure of a connector road brought I-405 to a crawl – the same weekend as the U.S. Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach.
Message boards have been warning drivers from Los Angeles to Riverside counties that this closure is coming. Orange County officials have been in contact with the Los Angeles Galaxy, which has a home game Saturday night. The Angels also have home games Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, but a team official said they don’t anticipate any impacts.
“I hate these, ‘you-gotta-get-through-it’ things,” said Seal Beach Mayor Gary Miller, who also serves on the Orange County Transportation Authority board. “But yes, we’ve got to get through it.”
The closure will give work crews 20 hours to tear down a 50-year-old connector road that carries traffic over the freeway and onto the eastbound 22. There’s no penalty if the contractor, Atkinson Construction, fails to finish on time – it just won’t get paid beyond those 20 hours. That amounts to around $35,000 an hour, OCTA spokesman Joel Zlotnik said.
BUSY STRETCH OF ROAD
That part of I-405 sees more traffic in an average day than any other stretch of freeway in California, according to numbers kept by Caltrans. It appears to qualify as the busiest piece of freeway in America as well, but the numbers kept by the Federal Highway Administration are out of date.
Some 377,500 vehicles pass through it on an average day, fewer on the weekend. By comparison, the busiest part of the Carmageddon closure in Los Angeles sees around 317,000 vehicles a day. That closure, though, lasted almost twice as long and shut down 10 miles of freeway. It also generated national headlines, celebrity tweets and hunker-down hotel packages.
But neighborhoods around Orange County’s coming closure seemed to be taking it in stride. “It’s going to be a major impact,” said Johnnie Strohmeyer, the chief executive of the Los Alamitos Chamber of Commerce. But she was quick to add: “I’m afraid we’re all going to have to deal with it.”
On the other side of the freeway, Forrest Frederick was planning to stock up on eggs and “batten down the hatches” at his restaurant, Ham ‘n Scram. It overlooks Westminster Boulevard, one of the major detours, and he expected the weekend to be busy.
“You gotta get to Long Beach or Seal Beach, I’m the guy. You gotta go by me,” he said. “I think there’ll be enough frustrated people that are hungry and have to go to the bathroom. … Bring ’em on.”
CALL IT ‘ORANGE JAM’
That traffic jam coming to the Orange County side of I-405 this weekend? Call it the Orange Jam.
That was the clear winner of an Orange County Register contest to name this weekend’s 20-hour closure of the 405 in the Seal Beach area. “Orange Jam” received more than a third of the 339 votes cast online or through emails, beating out such also-rans as “Clogwork Orange,” “The Great Park” and “Orangutangle.”
Terry Applebaum, a community volunteer from Villa Park, came up with Orange Jam – and then rallied a get-out-the-vote effort that would make any politician proud. She asked friends and family to vote for “Orange Jam.” She sent out emails about it. She posted it on social media.
It was all for fun. She called her supporters “Team Orange Jam.”
Los Angeles had its Carmageddon. Orange County now has Orange Jam.
“That’s very cool,” Applebaum said.