California Governor Gavin Newsom and Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass declared emergencies over the weekend over the closure of a stretch of Interstate 1o in Downtown Los Angeles due to a massive fire, with transportation and emergency officials hoping to solve the situation soon before more major traffic backups occur.
The situation began in the early hours on Saturday when a fire erupted at a wooden pallet storage yard near the I-10 freeway. The blaze quickly spread to around 8 acres, with the interstate being so damaged that steel guardrails and concrete pillars had begun melting. While the fire was ultimately contained and put out later in the morning with no injuries or loss of life, fire and transportation officials closed a portion of I-10 between the Alameda street exit and the I-5 interchange indefinitely.
“I-10 will be FULLY CLOSED until further notice between the East LA Connector & Alameda St. due to a fire that damaged the freeway.” said Caltrans on Saturday.
In a follow-up Tweet on Sunday, the agency added on X, “I-10 remains FULLY CLOSED until further notice between the East LA interchange & Alameda St due to a fire that damaged the fwy. Avoid the area, expect major delays & seek alternate routes to events in Downtown LA or use the Metro.”
I-10 remains FULLY CLOSED until further notice between the East LA interchange & Alameda St due to a fire that damaged the fwy. Avoid the area, expect major delays & seek alternate routes to events in #DTLA or use @metrolosangeles public transit. See detour for WB. & EB I-10 👇 pic.twitter.com/oBduHIFTXY
— Caltrans District 7 (@CaltransDist7) November 12, 2023
The sudden closure of a major LA highway that sees an average of 300,000 people travelling on it every day prompted officials to take quick action, including accelerating repair timetables, getting federal funding, and setting up detours. Governor Newsom himself was prompted to announce a state of emergency because of the impending traffic snarl.
“The state is mobilizing resources and taking steps to ensure any necessary repairs are completed as soon as possible to minimize the impact on those traveling in and around Los Angeles,” said Governor Newsom on Saturday in a statement. “I want to thank all of the first responders and firefighters working tirelessly to contain this fire. The state will assess damage, remove hazardous waste and begin repairs as soon as the site can be accessed. Caltrans and the California Highway Patrol will continue to provide updates as they become available.
“The proclamation facilitates clean-up and repair work and directs Caltrans to formally request assistance through the Federal Highway Administration’s Emergency Relief Program, if appropriate.”
In a separate statement, Mayor Bass noted the impeding crisis of having major highway shut down for a long period of time. She also said that she contacted the Department of Transportation and compared the damage and need to repair fast to the 1994 Northridge Earthquake, which had severely damaged highways around LA.
Major damage to the I-10 section in LA
“Last night, the Los Angeles Fire Department responded to a significant blaze under the I-10 Freeway east of Downtown Los Angeles,” said Bass. “I want to thank Chief Crowley and the Los Angeles Fire Department for their rapid response. No injuries or deaths have been reported.
“As of now, the freeway is closed in both directions. This evening, emergency crews will continue to assess the damages and how commuters, surrounding businesses and other travelers will be impacted in the future. I have directed all city departments to immediately plan for how to address increased traffic due to this closure to best mitigate the impact on Angelenos and we will continue to urgently coordinate with our state partners to resolve this issue for not only the millions who use this freeway, but also for those who live and work in the surrounding areas.
“I have spoken with United States Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and he assured Los Angeles that the White House stands at the ready to assist with whatever is needed. I have also been in touch with Governor Newsom and thank him for his assurance that the State will pull out all the stops to get this freeway repaired. During the 1994 Northridge earthquake, CalTrans worked around the clock to complete emergency repairs to the freeways, and this structural damage calls for the same level of urgency and effort. We will provide another update tomorrow.”
The closure brought massive traffic backups across LA, with the Metro expanding services and adding more cars to lines because of the increased need for travelers. On Sunday, Governor Newsom and Mayor Bass visited the site. While both vowed to reopen the section of highway as soon as possible, Caltrans officials maintained that there was no reopening date in the future and that the highway section would still be closed indefinitely.
“This is a whole of government response as we work effectively and efficiently to safely re-open this critical transit corridor for Angelenos as quickly as possible,” said Governor Newsom on Sunday. “I want to assure all Angelenos that the necessary resources to repair this damage have been made available to minimize the impact. 300,000 vehicles go through this corridor every day. It is of significance consequence to the economy, to the health and safety of Angelenos, the impact to our schools, to vulnerable communities, all of that, we take very seriously, and we’re sober and mindful of the urgency to get this open. It is safety first. It is speed second.”
Today, Governor @GavinNewsom and @MayorOfLA Bass surveyed the damage to the I-10 freeway. The state is working with locals, @CaltransHQ, @CHP_HQ, and @CAL_FIRE to reopen the I-10 freeway quickly and safely. pic.twitter.com/lHpr93aPjO
— Office of the Governor of California (@CAgovernor) November 13, 2023
Mayor Bass also added, “I have directed all city departments to urgently respond to the impacts of this closure by ensuring that there is a plan for the hundreds of thousands of Angelenos who commute or live by this incident, and I am in touch with Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, Governor Newsom and our state partners to ensure that there are no barriers to getting this portion of the 10 Freeway up and running as fast as possible. While the repairs are being made, it is my top priority that we provide as much information as possible to ensure that our communities, our commuters, our businesses and all those who are impacted by this are well informed each step of the way.
“Unfortunately, there is no reason to think that this is going to be over in a couple of days. Our strategy is three-prong. Number one, ensuring that there is a plan for Angelenos who commute or live by this incident. Number two, working to get the 10 Freeway up and running again as fast as possible. Number three, providing as much information as possible to ensure that our communities and our commuters are well-informed every step of the way.”
Despite optimism, the situation worsened on Monday. Lighter Veteran’s Day weekend traffic intensified into the heavy Monday morning commute. Major backups were experienced on all surrounding highways, with Mayor Bass telling drivers to not use sidestreets because of the major backups that was causing city-wide, to use public transportation, or to work remotely from home if that is an option.
I-10 section shutdown snarls LA traffic
However, with Caltrans still investigating and assessing the damages, with major repair and construction work highly likely in the coming months, LA traffic woes are expected to remain worse than usual for the foreseeable future and would likely continue into 2024 if structural problems are found.
“That’s what everyone is waiting on,” said Mark Wiley, an engineer who specializes in highway structures, to the Globe on Monday. “This isn’t like an earthquake where the damage is readily seen. Northridge ’94 and the World Series quake up in San Francisco in 1989, you could easily spot road collapses. Here, you know, you had the Governor and fire officials walking on top of it, so it doesn’t seem bad. But that is misleading. Look at some of those wider shots, and you can see people plainly avoiding strategic areas.
“Big concrete roads seem like they are susceptible to fire, but not a huge one like we saw on Saturday. Getting a reopening timetable on the 10 takes time so crews can look at the damage and figure out how long it can take to repair it all. A shorter timeline is possible because of federal money likely coming in and all hands on deck likely coming in to work on it. But we just don’t know yet.
“Newsom responded to this pretty well, as did Bass. They got state and local agencies on this as soon as possible are both are working to get federal assistance. You can’t really fault either of them for anything on this, as they both want the highway open as quickly as possible. Not faring well is whoever or whatever started that fire. If it was accidental, then whoever runs that center will be heavily blamed. I’ve also heard that maybe homeless people around there are to blame, although, right now, there is much less evidence for that.”
“Fire under 10 Freeway in downtown L.A. upends traffic with no reopening in sight” https://t.co/FjhIF2TUb7
— Will Swaim (@WillSwaim) November 13, 2023
“No matter what though, it looks like the 10 will be out of commission for a good while because of the fire. More traffic is the last thing LA needs.”
A cause of the fire, as well as a rough reopening timeline, are expected to be announced soon.
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