LOS ANGELES (CNS) - The stretch of the Santa Monica (10) Freeway in downtown Los Angeles that has been closed since a Nov. 11 arson fire damaged it was reopened in both directions and commuters will be able to drive on it Monday, the California Highway Patrol reported.
The eastbound lanes reopened at 5:36 p.m. Sunday and the westbound lanes at 6:56 p.m., CHP Officer Stephan Brandt told City News Service.
Meanwhile, workers are continuing their repair work under the freeway, Brandt said. The surprise reopening comes two days before the scheduled reopening was planned.
"Traffic is now flowing on five lanes in each direction between Alameda Street and the East Los Angeles interchange, ahead of [Monday] morning's commute and before the Thanksgiving holiday, reducing the disruption to Los Angeles commuters," said a Sunday night statement from Gov. Gavin Newsom's office.
However, the statement continued, "As repairs continue over the coming months, the public should expect some temporary closures on occasional weekends and overnight, along with intermittent lane closures."
All eastbound on and off ramps on the freeway are open Monday. The westbound Alameda exit and 8th Street on ramp to the westbound 10 Freeway will be closed Monday.
Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass said in an update Monday the freeway will be continuously monitored to ensure it remains safe for commuters. Manuel daily surveys will be conducted to monitor any structural shifts or movements.
Standing on the still-closed freeway, Bass, Gov. Newsom, Sen. Alex Padilla and Vice President Kamala Harris told reporters at a Sunday morning news conference that workers should be praised for completing much of the work several days ahead of schedule and hailing the cooperation of government officials at all levels.
"This is a great day in our city, and I think it is a wonderful example of how and why we got this job done," Bass said. "First and foremost, the workforce that worked 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The numbers of workers on the site here, who doubled and tripled as everyone came together, showing the unity from the White House to the governor, to our senator, all of us standing together to make sure that this got done."
Padilla said Angelenos "don't have to wait for Thursday to give thanks for the opening -- before the Thanksgiving holiday -- of the I-10 Freeway, for folks who are working this week, folks who'll be traveling for the Thanksgiving holiday, and to give thanks to all the workers who made this possible. We can't thank them enough."
California's senior Democratic senator said that although officials don't yet know the final price tag for the repairs, the entire cost will be covered by federal funds, "thanks to the bipartisan infrastructure law that was passed and signed a couple of years ago."
Padilla estimated that the cost would be in the $3 million range, and Newsom later said it was "in the low millions."
Newsom praised the workers and contracting company and said 10,000 hours of labor went into the effort to get the freeway open in eight days.
"It was a week or so ago that we were here, not knowing if we would be here at this moment announcing the reopening for six more months. We were talking about replacing this structure, we were talking about this historic fire that took out about roughly 100 columns -- four or five particularly severely -- we were talking about replacing a large portion of this freeway," Newsom said.
"You can be assured of one thing: Safety first ... it wasn't just speed that we were after, we wanted to make sure this thing was safe," the governor added.
Newsom said permanent fixes to the freeway would occur over several weeks or months and would require "episodic closures," but those are not expected to significantly impact the daily commute. He added that the Alameda ramp would not open Monday, and Lawrence Street would remain closed between 10th and 14 streets.
In the aftermath of last weekend's fire, after results from initial testing came back, Newsom had initially estimated that the freeway would reopen in three to five weeks, while expressing the hope that workers might beat that deadline.
State officials said Wednesday that contractors had removed all of the debris and hazardous materials from beneath the damaged freeway stretch. Caltrans officials said about 264,000 cubic feet of material was removed, enough to fill four Olympic-size swimming pools. More than two dozen burned vehicles were also removed from the area.
That work was completed two days ahead of schedule.
There are more than 250 people working at the jobsite on 12-hour shifts, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, officials said.
Harris called the project "extraordinary," said it was the function of workers on the ground who "understood what closure of the 10 would mean to folks on a daily basis, and their commitment as public servants, as union members, to get this thing done. We can give the fancy speeches all day long, but we're able to stand here and do this because they did this work on the ground."
On Saturday, Cal Fire released photos and a description of a person of interest in connection with the fire they believe was intentionally set, igniting within the fenceline of a storage yard below the freeway on Nov. 11.
The suspect was described as a 6-foot tall man weighing 170 to 190 pounds with black hair. He appears to be between 30 and 35 years old, and his race is unknown. He possibly has a burn on his left leg. The man was photographed wearing a black hoodie, blue shorts, gray shoes, green scarf and a knee brace on his right knee. He was also carrying a dark-colored backpack.
Please read the attached crime alert. If you have any information, please contact the Office of the State Fire Marshal Arson and Bomb Unit at firstname.lastname@example.org or call the CAL FIRE Arson Hotline at 1-800-468-4408. pic.twitter.com/bSB8POYLk9— CAL FIRE (@CAL_FIRE) November 18, 2023
Investigators urged anyone with information about the initial fire or the suspect to call their tip hotline at 800-468-4408.
Until the freeway reopens, additional traffic officers were in place Sunday to help motorists navigate major events including the last day of the L.A. Auto Show at the downtown Convention Center, the Lakers-Houston Rockets game at Crypto.com Arena, and the Rams game against the Seattle Seahawks at So- Fi Stadium in Inglewood.
Bass had earlier directed the Los Angeles City Department of Transportation to make Commuter Express and DASH buses free to encourage commuters to use public transportation.
The damaged portion of Interstate 10 typically carries about 300,000 vehicles per day.
Beyond finding the suspect and re-routing traffic, city and state officials have also been concerned about the negative impact the closure and rerouted traffic is having on downtown businesses. City Councilman Kevin de Leon is expected to announce on Monday the opening of a dedicated Business Resource Center, and Bass has promised that assistance would be available to downtown businesses.
The assistance will include a micro-enterprise grant program, administrated by the city's Economic Workforce and Development Department. The grant deadline is Dec. 10. Businesses experiencing an interruption/disruption in their revenues or physical damages can also email email@example.com.
Claims for property damage at the freeway site can be emailed to the Caltrans District 7 Claims/Legal Office at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Information about these and other available resources can be found at emergency.lacity.gov.
Bass has thanked commuters who heeded warnings to avoid driving through the freeway closure area between Alameda Street and the East L.A. Interchange, noting that people opted to either stay home, find alternate routes or rely on mass transit to reach their destinations.
The initial fire was reported at 12:22 a.m. Nov. 11 in the 1700 block of East 14th Street, two blocks west of Alameda Street, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department's Margaret Stewart.
Firefighters from 26 companies worked feverishly to contain and extinguish the major emergency fire, which started in one downtown pallet yard, spread to another and consumed a fire engine that became stuck in its path, Stewart said.
The first pallet yard was 40,000 square feet in size and fully involved with flames that engulfed multiple trailers when firefighters arrived. The flames spread to the second pallet yard of similar size between Lawrence and Elwood streets.
Stewart said that by 2:33 a.m., pallets in both yards were mostly consumed by the flames and firefighters were using bulldozers to move debris and put out hot spots. Firefighters successfully prevented the fire from spreading to three nearby commercial buildings, she said.
The company that leases the property where the fire occurred, Calabasas-based Apex Development, is being sued by the state for failure to pay rent and violating the terms of its lease, in part by subleasing the property to other businesses and by allowing flammable materials to be stored on the land. That lawsuit was filed long before the fire erupted.
Newsom said at Sunday's news conference that the state had taken over four of Apex's five leases, with only one remaining in Sun Valley. He added that a court hearing in the case is expected in January or early February.
Caltrans is reviewing all similar leases to determine whether other companies might be violating lease terms. The governor said Sunday that preliminary results of that probe would be released Wednesday.
Bass said she has asked all city general managers to report if their agencies have any active leases of property beneath the freeway.
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