Los Angeles police, fire and transportation officials sought to assure people attending a 405 freeway closure meeting Thursday night that they were fully prepared to protect the public during the 53-hour closure in mid-July.
A unified command of public safety and transportation personnel was established to coordinate efforts and an eight-member panel representing the command team told about 170 people at the Skirball Cultural Center that public safety has been their top priority.
"Should an unfortunate incident occur-someone has a heart attack, there's a victim of a traffic accident, someone's shot-whatever that emergency might be, if we need to get to you we will get to you quickly because we have preplanned to do so," said Los Angeles Police Department Deputy Chief Kirk J. Albanese.
Construction crews for the I-405 Sepulveda Pass Improvements Project plan to demolish the south half of the Mulholland Bridge in the Sepulveda Pass over the July 16-17 weekend in order to build a new, wider bridge and a car pool lane on the freeway. The demolition, jokingly called "Carmageddon" by many, is part of a $1 billion project to add a 10-mile-long northbound car pool lane that will complete the car pool lane network between Orange County and the San Fernando Valley.
The 405 will be shut down starting late July 15 on its northbound side for 10 miles between the 10 and 101 freeways. The southbound side will be closed for four miles between the 101 and the Getty Center Drive exit.
Officials expect the freeway to be reopened at 5 a.m. Monday July 18, in time for the rush-hour commute.
Planners have designated 13 communities on the Westside and in the San Fernando Valley near the freeway where police and fire crews will be stationed. The move will allow the LAPD and Los Angeles Fire Department to respond quickly to emergencies, officials said.
Authorities also are planning on flooding the area with extra law enforcement, with more airships patrolling, and officers on foot and on motorcycles operating in 12-hour shifts over the weekend.
"At the end of the weekend on Monday morning, you and your family will be safe," Albanese said. "We'll get through the 53 hours, and when we wake up on Monday morning, we'll all be safe. That's what's really important."
But local hospital officials were unconvinced by the assurances.
Staffing levels will remain unchanged at UCLA's medical facilities, said Posie Carpenter, chief administrative officer of the Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center and Orthopaedic Hospital. As a result, hundreds of UCLA medical personnel will still need to commute to Westwood and Santa Monica the weekend of the closure, Carpenter told the command team.
Many staffers will be traveling from north of the Sepulveda Pass and areas south of the closure over the weekend. UCLA has not received a plan for aiding in the transport of these employees despite multiple attempts at communication, and simply telling staffers to leave earlier than they usually do is not enough, Carpenter said.
"They are flatly refusing to allow the hospital to plan," Carpenter said. "There is no way to know what the traffic is going to be."
She warned that patients will be at risk if a suitable plan is not adopted.
UCLA is requesting that charter buses transporting university personnel be allowed to use an emergency route. In a letter to the command team, UCLA leadership estimated that about eight convoys would be required over the weekend to transport hospital staff to 12-hour shifts.
Albanese said after the meeting that the hospital should identify the staffers who are the most critical and consider putting them in a hotel over the weekend. He said he was reluctant to start making exceptions for members of the community, including hospital workers, because others also would ask for exceptions.
"We have to stay careful that we stay focused on public safety," Albanese said.
Metro's Mike Barbour, a former Caltrans official and bridge expert who is leading the closure and reconstruction project, said transportation officials have conducted painstaking review of the plan to ensure that the freeway reopens by its Monday morning deadline.
Barring any major disasters over the weekend, Barbour said he is confident the work will be completed on time. He and other leaders of the project will be monitoring its progress throughout the entire closure.
He acknowledged, however, that if the remaining northern half of the Mulholland Bridge was not safe enough for drivers to use by Monday, the closure could continue.
"If it's unsafe, it's unsafe-there is always something that could happen, it's possible," Barbour said. "But no, it's going to be open."