Watch the trailer for UCLA's special program, "Countdown to Carmageddon: The 405 Closure," informing Southern California residents and visitors about the shutdown of the 405 freeway. The half-hour show airs Friday night, July 15, at 9:30 on KCET.
UPDATE, Sunday July 17: Carmageddon has ended early, and the 405 freeway re-opened at noon Sunday, according to new reports.
When Carmageddon strikes the weekend of July 16-18 and 10 miles of the busiest freeway in the nation, the 405 freeway, shut down, officials are advising drivers to stay home. But at UCLA, with a major hospital to run, summer camps to attend, facilities to staff and petri-dish experiments to keep alive, the campus can’t turn into a ghost town when the closure signs go up.
UCLA expects a smaller-than-usual population that weekend, with Bruins advised to keep clear if they can, or give themselves hours — yes, hours, plural — of extra driving time if they can’t. Some classes and events have been cancelled or postponed.
But at a city-sized university like UCLA, simply shutting down is not an option, noted Renée Fortier, the director of UCLA Transportation. About 8,000-10,000 people will be on campus that weekend, campus officials predict. That’s several thousand fewer drivers than would have been expected without outreach about Carmageddon.
More than 1,900 hospital employees will keep UCLA’s two hospitals purring, with several hundred doctors, nurses and other staff bunking in campus residence halls in case of an emergency. Roughly 200 children will attend long-ago promised sports camps, about 200 MBA students start classes, and 150 teachers from China will arrive at LAX to begin teacher-training on campus. The UCPD and UCLA Transportation are among the departments scheduling extra staff to make sure everything runs smoothly, and both UCPD and the LAPD are considering overnighting in UCLA dorms.
Starting at 7 p.m. Friday, freeway ramps on the 405 between the 10 and 101 freeways will begin to close down, including the Wilshire and Sunset ramps bookending UCLA’s campus. At the stroke of midnight, like Cinderella’s coach turning into a pumpkin, the 405 will close and turn into a gigantic concrete ditch for 53 hours. Officials estimate the closure will displace 500,000 weekend drivers.
Construction crews will tear down one side of the Mulholland Bridge as part of a $1 billion freeway-widening project expected to improve traffic and ease pollution. But for one weekend, experts predict 30-mile traffic jams, and Metro, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, warns of multi-hour delays. Metro advises drivers to stay out of their cars if possible until the freeway reopens at 5 a.m. Monday.
A hoe-ram will chew up the eastbound Mulholland Drive bridge, similar to the one shown in this image. Photo courtesy of Metro.
UCLA and the public television station KCET have joined together to offer a public service special called "Countdown to Carmageddon: The 405 Closure" to inform Southern California residents and visitors about the shutdown, airing at 8 p.m. Wednesday. More details about the closure are also available here.
The LAPD, LAFD, CHP, Metro and other agencies will establish a joint command post in Los Angeles’ Emergency Operations Center downtown, and UCLA will activate its own emergency center Friday afternoon, July 15. UCLA Transportation, the campus police and fire departments, Emergency Management and other branches of UCLA will staff the center throughout the weekend, said UCPD Chief James Herren.
"We don’t know exactly how many challenges we’ll face, but we want to be open just in case," Herren said. "It’s a multi-departmental approach. We’ll have barricades in place and traffic officers controlling traffic, so we’ll be able to get emergency vehicles through. I think it will be manageable, and it’s a great opportunity to practice our emergency plans."
Keeping two hospitals running
Maintaining normal operations and access at the campus’ Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center is a high priority, university officials said. The hospital is stocking extra medical supplies, housing additional staff nearby and postponing non-emergency surgeries, said William Dunne, director of the UCLA Health System’s Office of Emergency Preparedness.
"We’ll be ready and fully prepared to handle any emergency," Dunne said.
Patients and visitors are being warned to expect delays if they try to get to the hospital, and many employees have been asked to bunk on campus for the weekend in UCLA dorms, apartments and UCLA Tiverton House so they can respond quickly to an emergency and avoid burning out on long commutes. At the Santa Monica hospital, employees will bunk in the soon-to-open new wing. Surgeons, midwives, nurses, technicians, nutritionists, plumbers and air-conditioning repair staff will be on hand to ensure the hospitals function normally, Dunne said.
While the bulk of UCLA employees live south of campus, more than half of the health system’s employees live north, on the other side of the Santa Monica Mountains, where they would be cut off from campus by the freeway closure. Some employees will still have to find alternate routes to their jobs.
The hospitals also hope to gradually reduce the number of patients the week before the closure, and although visitors will be allowed in during Carmageddon, they’re being advised against coming. Pregnant patients nearing their due dates are being encouraged to book hotel rooms nearby, and women with high-risk pregnancies may be admitted as a precaution, Dunne said. In all, 1,500 staff and 500 patients are expected at the Westwood campus alone during the 405-less weekend.
Dealing with roadblocks
UCLA Transportation can’t predict the future, but years of experience have given them some idea of what to look for.
"For Friday, we’re a little worried about the phenomenon that happened on Valentine’s Day this year, where everyone left a little early and caused a traffic jam at 4:30," Fortier said. Her office will coordinate with the Los Angeles Department of Transportation’s Automated Traffic Surveillance and Control system, which can adjust traffic signals to ease congestion.
UCLA traffic officers will also man intersections Friday and all weekend, guiding traffic to prevent gridlock. If cut-through traffic begins to clog the campus, Transportation has lists of all the guests expected at events on campus and will screen drivers for Bruin ID cards or match names to guest lists, Fortier said. Pathways to the hospital, in particular, will be kept clear.
"Monday morning is what we’re more concerned about," she added. "We have vanpools that would normally be on the 405 at a time when it’s still expected to be closed." Early-morning drivers could back up on 405 in a jumbo jam, waiting for the freeway to open at 5 a.m. Even once the roadway opens, the pent-up demand could cause a rolling traffic jam throughout the morning commute, she said. UCLA traffic officers will remain on duty for Monday-morning rush hour.
Fortier was confident that the freeway will re-open without delay, and Metro has taken steps to ensure that its contractor, Kiewit Pacific Co., is as eager to open the freeway on time as any of the hundreds of thousands of drivers: If Kiewit runs late, Metro will fine them $6,000 for every 10 minutes that either side of the freeway remains closed, said Metro spokesman Dave Sotero.
For drivers who must come to campus, Fortier advised using one of Metro’s many free public transit options available that weekend.
Campus life goes on
Even in the summer, and even on weekends, UCLA is busy – really busy. And that’s with the many adjustments UCLA has made to make the freeway shutdown bearable.
Royce Hall’s performance space is dark that weekend, and Events Management closed out UCLA’s room reservation system months ago in preparation for Carmageddon. More than half of UCLA Extension’s classes have been rescheduled, and enrollment for the remaining classes is heavily local, with students receiving e-mail warnings about the traffic, said Extension spokeswoman Helen Williams. The Fowler museum pushed a sizeable celebration to the following weekend, and elective surgeries have been postponed in the health system.
But the campus will hardly be empty.
Housing and Hospitality Services has set aside approximately 400 double rooms – 800 beds – on the Hill for medical center staff, the LAPD, UCPD and other employees. In addition, about 300 Facilities Management employees will also be working on campus, along with researchers who have to tend to lab experiments.
About 1,000 summer students are already living in the dorms, but they are being discouraged from taking weekend road trips, said Jason Walley, the assistant director of conference services. "One group was planning to go to Magic Mountain, and going north and south was obviously not going to be easy," Walley said.
All told, about 5,000 people will be living on the Hill that weekend, including 1,000 guests who plan to check in that Sunday, Walley said. "The bulk of them are coming from LAX. People have already paid for these programs, and it’s hard for the parents who have made their plans in advance – we can’t cancel on them." Housing staff who live within walking or biking distance to campus are being called in for the weekend.
At UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, about 500 students and 40 faculty and staff are expected for a variety of programs, including the first day of the Fully Employed MBA program's classes and another program's orientation. Classes will start an hour later than planned to give everyone time to arrive.
UCLA’s Confucius Institute will host 150 Chinese teachers, many in the U.S. for the first time, who arrive on Sunday and Monday at LAX for training at UCLA before being dispatched to classrooms across the country, said institute Director Susan Pertel Jain, who plans to bike to campus from her home. More weekend departures and arrivals include 120 high school students for summer arts institutes on campus.
"These are academic, credit-bearing programs, and for a lot of these kids it’s a chance to explore a university they already want to go to," Pertel Jain explained. "We discussed the idea of cancelling their Friday night gallery showing, but these kids put so much effort into it. We can’t let traffic get in the way."
Parents driving kids to UCLA Athletics’ overnight gymnastics, track and soccer camps will also face traffic, said Associate Athletic Director Ken Weiner. While some campers have cancelled, more than 100 gymnastics campers are still due to arrive Friday night and leave on Sunday, and about 100 soccer campers will arrive on Sunday and Monday.
The Spanish soccer team Real Madrid is also scheduled to train on campus the afternoon of Sunday, July 17, but the practice will be closed to the public. And if gridlock forces the campus to screen drivers, fans will be turned away.
Everyone else: stay home!
If drivers play it smart, avoid the 405 area and keep close to home, Carmageddon will be manageable, UCLA officials said.
"Undoubtedly we will face a lot of traffic congestion," said Herren. "We’ve increased staffing that weekend to hedge our bets against any situation. It costs us extra, but we’d rather have the resources here so we can handle emergencies. Although it may be inconvenient, I don’t think we’ll have major problems. We’re prepared."
One of best tools the campus has is getting the message out ahead of time that anyone who can stay away should do so, campus planners said.
"We will have thousands of vehicles on campus," said Fortier. "If it’s like the 1984 Olympics [in Los Angeles] and everyone … decides to either leave town or stay home, things could be wonderful. But if people don’t take it seriously… it’s going to be very difficult."