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LA looks to survive highway closure

Residents warned to avoid area roads

Adam Kessel (right) and Glen Greenberg sold shirts yesterday to mark “Carmageddon.’’ Adam Kessel (right) and Glen Greenberg sold shirts yesterday to mark “Carmageddon.’’ (Jae C. Hong/Associated Press)
By Daisy Nguyen and John Rogers
Associated Press / July 16, 2011

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LOS ANGELES - When the sun rises above Los Angeles today, residents in this car-dependent, traffic-choked city will see a rare sight: a 10-mile stretch of one of the nation’s busiest freeways turned into a virtual ghost road. Interstate 405 is closing for 53 hours for major construction.

As crews worked feverishly to get the freeway open in time for the Monday morning rush hour, residents have been making plans for weeks to stay off local roads, lest they trigger what officials dubbed “Carmageddon.’’

Such an event could back up vehicles from the 405 to surface streets and other freeways, causing a domino effect that could paralyze much of the city.

With warnings having been broadcast through television, radio, social media, and flashing freeway signs as far away as San Francisco, much of the city’s nearly 4 million residents appear ready to stay off the roads.

If they do, there will be no shortage of staycation activities awaiting them.

They can snag free popcorn being offered at movie theaters along the 405 or drop in on Michael Jackson’s dermatologist for 25-percent-off Botox injections so that frazzled commuters will not look quite so frazzled.

For those who do get caught in traffic, LA musician Ken Elkinson is offering free downloads of his boxed set, “Music for Commuting,’’ a collection of soothing tunes.

Along with all the gimmicky promotions, there have also been months of planning.

Construction crews have been gearing up, but so have police, fire, and medical officials seeking to ensure that everything goes smoothly - or, if it doesn’t, to ensure they are prepared to handle any emergency.

The city Fire Department put two dozen additional engines, fire companies, and ambulances into service, placing them in neighborhoods that firefighters might have a hard time getting to from jammed roadways.

The UCLA Health System, which runs the huge Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center located near the 405, put three helicopter companies on standby to transport patients and organs.

For those who do have to drive, a Cedars-Sinai Medical Center psychiatrist was offering advice. Among Dr. Waguih William IsHak’s tips: avoid road rage at all costs, apologize profusely to anyone you accidentally cut off in traffic, and be sure to leave for your destination with a full tank of gas and a cellphone.

And, he said, don’t forget to go to the bathroom before you leave.

Or, better yet, authorities say, stay at home.

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