It doesn’t take Carmageddon or Carmageddon II to make life hell on the almost-always-jammed 405 Freeway running from the Westside of Los Angeles to the San Fernando Valley and beyond.
A 14-month delay in completion of the $1-billion freeway-widening project, and its accompanying $100 million cost overrun, will accomplish the task very nicely.
The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) announced that construction, which was originally scheduled to end in June before the date was pushed back to December, won’t be completed until mid-2014. Although L.A. County Supervisor and Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board Member Zev Yaroslavsky told the Los Angeles Daily News the project was “jinxed,” he also pointed a finger at “the contractor, and how they have handled this project.”
The addition of a 10-mile carpool lane began in 2009, and weekend closures of the freeway to accommodate restructuring of overpasses failed to wreak the havoc everyone in the city expected. But the added congestion from incremental construction is taking the same toll on drivers’ nerves.
Finding out the reasons why isn’t going to make the delays any easier to take.
Caltrans employed a planning regimen not usually used in projects of this size. To speed things up, the agency hired a contractor based on a preliminary design and projected cost without putting the project out to bid. The project was also accelerated to take advantage of available federal funds.
The result? According to the Los Angeles Times, the contractor didn’t know about a large storm drain and utility lines under a parallel street that had to be moved. A dozen retaining walls needed to be built and then rebuilt when they started to crumble, bridge and ramp designs were changed on the fly and the carpool lane itself had to be widened.
The pokey pace of construction has turned criticism of the project into a cottage industry and attracted the support of people like Elon Musk, who gave $50,000 to the Faster 405 Campaign. Musk, the founder of SpaceX and co-founder of PayPal and Tesla Motors, said he anted up the money because the 405 Freeway drive from his home to office was “soul destroying.”