Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass is urging commuters Thursday to use public transportation and avoid driving on the fire-damaged stretch of the Santa Monica (10) Freeway in downtown Los Angeles.
Bass said motorists appear to be heeding warnings about avoiding the area of the freeway in downtown Los Angeles, saying Wednesday surface streets appeared to be much less congested during the morning commute.
“I can tell you the morning traffic looked good, looked normal, looked like Angelenos are paying attention,” Bass said during a Wednesday morning briefing.
The mayor spoke after taking a helicopter tour of the closure area, and after riding the Metro E (Expo) Line during the morning commute from the Expo/Western Station to Little Tokyo. Bass has been urging residents to use public transit to alleviate congestion on the freeways and on city streets that can become quickly overloaded.
“I had a stress-free ride on the Expo Line,” she said. “… (I) didn’t have to get off the train because we now have the Regional Connector, and it was a very smooth, stress-free ride.”
She repeated her call for commuters to take public transit, work from home or staying on freeways as much as possible to prevent traffic from jamming local streets. The closed portion of the 10 Freeway between Alameda Street and the East L.A. Interchange typically carries about 300,000 vehicles per day.
Bass, who also chairs the Metro Board of Directors, said ridership on the Metro system has increased about 10% over the past few days.
The stretch of freeway is expected to remain closed for about three to five weeks while crews work to shore up the deck of the heavily traveled roadway, which was damaged in a fire that erupted early Saturday morning in a storage yard beneath the freeway.
Officials had initially feared the closure could last for months if the damage was so extensive that it would require demolition and rebuilding of the stretch. But Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Tuesday that tests on concrete and rebar determined that the structural integrity of the freeway was better than anticipated, so it can be repaired without a full tear-down.
He noted that the work will still be a big job, since roughly 100 support columns beneath the freeway were damaged and need to be repaired.
Newsom said he expects the work to be completed and at least part of the freeway reopened earlier than five weeks.
“I do not want to see that five-week mark hit,” he said. “I want to see something much faster.”
Bass warned that three to five weeks is still a long time to endure a major freeway closure, but she expressed optimism Wednesday morning that motorists are doing their part to find alternative routes or modes of transportation.
The Los Angeles Times is reporting the damaged portion of the freeway could reopen in a week, rather than in three to five weeks. But a representative from Caltrans said during a news conference Thursday that report is untrue.
Bass noted that rain in the area continuing into the weekend could further exacerbate traffic woes.
Bass earlier directed the Los Angeles City Department of Transportation to make Commuter Express and DASH buses free to encourage commuters to use public transportation. She also requested an increase in the number of white-glove traffic officers in congested areas to assist commuters through busy intersections.
Bass directed Los Angeles Fire Chief Kristin Crowley to begin surveying similar storage areas under other freeway overpasses and identifying spots that might be vulnerable to fire.
The Saturday night fire has been deemed by investigators to have been intentionally set, breaking out within the fenceline of a storage yard. Officials have declined to indicate exactly how the fire may have been set or to say how they so quickly determined it was arson.
Bass said there are security cameras in the area, but it was unclear if any of them caught the culprit or culprits in the act.
Anyone with information about the start of the blaze to come forward and call a hotline at 800-468-4408.
The company that leases the property where the fire occurred, Calabasas-based Apex Development, is being sued by the state for failure to pay rent and violating the terms of its lease, in part by subleasing the property to other businesses and by allowing flammable materials to be stored on the land.
Another court hearing in that case is expected early next year.
Newsom said Caltrans is reviewing all similar leases to determine if other companies might be violating lease terms. Bass said she has asked all city general managers to report if their agencies have any active leases of property beneath the freeway.
The freeway remains closed roughly between Alameda Street and Santa Fe Avenue, affecting connectors to the Golden State (5), Hollywood (101) and Pomona (60) freeways.
Officials urged motorists trying to navigate the area to remain on various freeways as much as possible to avoid having local streets overloaded by thousands of vehicles.
Drivers using the 10 Freeway were asked to remain on the freeway and transfer to other freeways when they approach the downtown area if possible. For those coming from the east, the first exit to downtown streets is Seventh Street, with the next opportunity at Santa Fe/Mateo. For those coming from the west, the transition to the Harbor (110) Freeway is the first opportunity to access downtown surface streets, and the next exit is Alameda.
State officials established a website at fixthe10.ca.gov to provide the latest information on the repair process.
Bass, in an interview with KNX News on Tuesday, said she is also be pushing for tolls to be suspended in Metro ExpressLanes on freeways near the closure area. A commuter told KNX earlier she paid more than $20 in surge congestion pricing on Tuesday to use the ExpressLanes, even though they were just as jammed as the regular freeway lanes.
“When I learned about that, you should know that I am aggressively pursuing that,” Bass told the station. “So hopefully that will be corrected. That’s the last thing we need right now, frankly. We need every mode of transportation to function and that includes those lanes.”
The initial fire was reported at 12:22 a.m. Saturday in the 1700 block of East 14th Street, two blocks west of Alameda Street, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department’s Margaret Stewart.
Firefighters from 26 companies worked feverishly to contain and extinguish the major emergency fire, which started in one downtown pallet yard, spread to another and consumed a fire engine that became stuck in its path, Stewart said.
The first pallet yard was 40,000 square feet in size and fully involved with flames that engulfed multiple trailers when firefighters arrived. The flames spread to the second pallet yard of similar size between Lawrence and Elwood streets.
Stewart said that by 2:33 a.m. Saturday, pallets in both yards were mostly consumed by the flames and firefighters were using bulldozers to move debris and put out hot spots.
Firefighters successfully prevented the fire from spreading to three nearby commercial buildings, Stewart said.
Metrolink expanded service beginning Monday on its San Bernardino Line to support travelers impacted by the Interstate 10 closure. On Tuesday, the schedule expanded again, with trains departing Union Station bound for Covina at 5:50, 8:08 and 10:38 a.m. and 1:38 p.m. Trains will depart Covina for Union Station at 7:08, 9:11 and 11:44 a.m. and 3:11 p.m.
An additional train will offer round-trip service between Union Station and Rancho Cucamonga, leaving L.A. Union Station at 4:22 p.m., then leaving Rancho Cucamonga heading back to L.A. at 6:46 p.m.