June 15, 2011— -- "You can't get there from here" will take on a whole new meaning in Los Angeles in a few weeks when a 10-mile stretch of one of the city's major freeways, the 405, will close in both directions for 53 hours starting July 15.
By way of comparison, if you're from Boston, imagine I-93 closing down. Or if you live in New York City, imagine trying to get to work without the BQE. In Dallas, try getting around town without US-75 for a weekend.
Angelenos love to drive and 500,000 of them use the heavily congested 405 on any given weekend. So the prospect of shutting down 10 miles of the major freeway running from Los Angeles International Airport to the San Fernando Valley is causing more than a little angst in the City of Angels.
One local radio personality coined the term "Carmageddon." Then a city politician referred to the project as the "Nightmare on the 405" and now, hundreds of commuters have taken to Twitter express their apprehension. A quick search for #carmageddon and comments like "God help us all" and "3 days of hell" pop up.
Oddly enough, most of the unease seems driven by local officials' attempts to publicize the road closure.
For example, at a recent press conference, LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa told the assembled crowd, "There's gridlock on the 405 virtually any time of the day, but particularly during the rush hour, and if you think it's bad now, let me just make something absolutely clear: On July 16 and 17, it will be an absolute nightmare."
It's hard to imagine a less calming way to present an upcoming road project to local commuters.
But local officials show no signs of backing down with their "autopocalypse" scenarios. In an interview with ABC News.com, LA County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said: "Stay the hell away is the best advice we can give. Don't go anywhere near the west side of LA ... stay home, get Netflix ... everybody has to suck it up. We're doing our part to make sure every man, woman and child knows about this."
The highway closure is part of a $1 billion highway improvement project that involves constructing a northbound carpool lane and reconstructing the Mulholland Bridge. The 53-hour closure will allow demolition work on the south side of the Mulholland Bridge to proceed.
And if you're thinking of trying to avoid 405 by using an alternate route -- think again.
"I know every shortcut and not one of them is going to work," Yaroslavsky said. "There will be ripple effects for miles and miles."
Some of the ripple effects are already being felt. The J. Paul Getty Museum, with a main entrance right off one of the affected 405 exits. has simply decided to close the weekend of July 16 and 17, a move that will affect close to 12,000 people.
"It's unfortunate, but it was just very clear that it made more sense to shut down than try to figure out the logistical challenge of getting people here," museum spokeswoman Julie Jaskol said.
Several smaller local businesses, including Manny's Pizzeria on Sepulveda Boulevard, have banded together to make sure they stay open and offer sustenance in the way of pizza and sandwiches to those poor souls trying to ride out Carmageddon on their own. Members of the West LA Neighborhood Council and the Encino Neighborhood Council said they are making plans right now to figure out how to handle the "crisis."
For his part, Yaroslavsky said that as county supervisor he will be keeping an eye on the construction that weekend in the only two ways feasible, given the likely gridlock. He said he lives close enough to be able to jog over to the scene if he wants to. And he added that he just might catch a bird's eye view of the action from a "sheriff's helicopter."
For a different kind of perspective on the 405 closure, @Sunil offered this wry observation on Twitter: "Only in LA could the closure of a freeway on the weekend be compared to the end of the world."