Two key ramps connecting Wilshire Boulevard and the San Diego (405) Freeway will close Friday night as part of a $1 billion project to ease traffic on the highway through the Sepulveda Pass.
Unlike last summer's "Carmageddon," which threatened a weekend of extraordinary congestion thanks to a full closure of the freeway through the pass, this closure marks the beginning of what could be up to a year of crippling traffic in Westwood and West Los Angeles -- "Carmageddon on steroids," as one official put it.
The project has earned nicknames such as "Rampture" and "Ramp Jam" from public officials and news outlets. The Los Angeles Country Metropolitan Transportation Authority-led project to demolish and reconstruct the eight ramps at the interchange could give Westside commuters and nearby businesses nightmares.
Theresa Padgett works the front office of Zakhor Dental Group on Wilshire, two blocks east of the interchange. She said she plans to give herself an extra hour for her commute to Westwood from Torrance.
"I'm worried about Sepulveda. I can't even imagine what it's going to be like," she said. "I love my job, so I hope our office is not impacted."
Beginning at 10 p.m. Friday, transportation officials will begin closing the westbound Wilshire on-ramp to the northbound 405 and the northbound 405 off-ramp to westbound Wilshire. Construction crews will immediately begin demolishing the closed ramps and continue ongoing construction on replacement "fly-over" ramps.
Under a 24-hour-per-day work schedule, the new ramps will be completed within 90 days, officials said. Construction crews will then turn their attention to the other six ramps. The demolition schedule for those ramps has not been finalized.
Metro spokesman Dave Sotero said the ramps might be done in pairs or all at the same time, with each ramp taking between two weeks and three months to tear down.
"We are trying to be as flexible as we can. The goal of all the work is to try to minimize the impact to the public as much as we can," Sotero said.
Metro has been running ads on radio and newspaper websites this week, strongly urging commuters and residents in the area to plan ahead for the closures.
"Plan ahead, adjust your travel times, share the ride," the ads advise.
The ramp demolition is part of a larger $1 billion freeway improvement project that includes a 10-mile carpool lane on the northbound 405 between the Santa Monica (10) Freeway and Ventura (101) Freeway.
Metro hopes to have the lane open by the summer of 2013.
Officials said the ramp project will ultimately relieve congestion dramatically and improve safety where Wilshire Boulevard meets the 405. Under the current ramp configuration, cars exiting the freeway onto Wilshire are forced to weave through traffic trying to get on the freeway, and vice-versa.
The new fly-over ramps will separate the two traffic flows, allowing for smoother transitions, Metro officials said.
"The next 90 days are going to be very difficult. There's no way to put lipstick on this pig. It's 'Carmageddon' on steroids," said Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who represents the area and also sits on Metro's Board of Directors. "People should try to avoid the intersection if at all possible."
However, Yaroslavsky said, the payoff when the project is complete will be high.
"This is one of the worthiest projects that I've ever been involved with. The on- and off-ramps at the Wilshire-405 interchange are among the most poorly designed, dysfunctional in America," he said.
Yaroslavksy urged people to carpool or use public transportation.
"I know people are cynical about public transportation. I urge people to try it, and see if they like it. It's a good system," Yaroslavksy said.
During the demolition of ramps that span Sepulveda Boulevard, traffic officers will reduce Wilshire by two lanes between Veteran and Federal avenues, though motorists will still be able to travel both directions on Wilshire, Sotero said.
During the ramp closure, drivers on Wilshire will be directed north on Sepulveda to the Moraga Drive on-ramp or south on Sepulveda Boulevard to the Santa Monica Boulevard on-ramp.
Northbound motorists exiting the freeway should use off-ramps at Santa Monica or Sunset boulevards. Digital traffic signs and officers will help manage the detours.
Motorists are encouraged to skip unnecessary trips to the area during the shutdown and to monitor local news reports or visit www.go511.com for real- time traffic conditions.