LOS ANGELES (AP) — Only in Los Angeles could a weekend freeway closure be compared to the end of the world.
Authorities will close Interstate 405 to do road work in July, and they took the step Monday of issuing a dire warning a full month ahead of time because of the potential traffic nightmare it could cause on one of the nation's busiest freeways.
"This doesn't need to be a car-mageddon," county Supervisor Zev Yaroslovsky said at a news conference. "The best alternative route is to totally avoid the 405 area, completely avoid it, don't come anywhere near it, don't even think about coming to it. Stay the heck out of here."
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa inadvertently made a point about the congestion, showing up a half-hour late because, you guessed it, there was heavy traffic on the freeway.
"If you think it's bad now, let me just make something absolutely clear: On July 16th and 17th, it will be an absolute nightmare," Villaraigosa said in a parking lot overlooking the freeway, where morning traffic sounded like a rushing river.
The mayor and other officials urged drivers to avoid the freeway during the work or do the unthinkable — spend a summer weekend at home.
A 10-mile stretch of the freeway linking the San Fernando Valley and the Westside will be closed for 53 hours for demolition of half of the Mulholland Bridge in Sepulveda Pass.
The work is part of a $1 billion project to add carpool lanes and make other improvements.
On a typical July weekend, about 500,000 vehicles use that section of freeway to get to major destinations such as the airport, beaches and interchanges to other major highways.
Jessica Ayres, who commutes on the freeway to get to her job at a hotel, plans to stay close to home in Playa del Rey that weekend.
"I'm going to walk to the grocery store, go get stuff, have a bonfire by the beach and not use my car," Ayres said. "You don't have to go on the 405 to have a good weekend."
In past months, authorities have partially closed the freeway to reconstruct two other bridges on the corridor. They said a full shutdown was necessary to replace the 50-year-old Mulholland Bridge, and a weekend closure was necessary to minimize impact to traffic on a workday.
Officials are trying to get the word out well in advance of the shutdown, starting with electronic warning signs throughout California freeways and updates on social networking websites.
Subway rides will be free on that weekend, additional buses will be provided on certain lines, and traffic engineers will be standing by to monitor the ripple effect on roads and to manage key intersections.
The Getty Center and Skirball Cultural Center, two popular institutions along the pass that attract thousands of visitors on weekends, will close. Airport officials were coordinating with airlines and car rental companies so they can help the roughly 170,000 passengers expected to pass through LAX plan their ground transportation.
Officials said they expect that not everybody will heed the warning.
Yaroslovsky said he knows that some determined drivers will find a way to get around heavy traffic, as they did when the magnitude-6.7 Northridge earthquake in 1994 shut down a well-traveled portion of Interstate 10 in the mid-city area for 66 days.
"Angelenos know how to drive and navigate traffic jams and how to avoid them," he said.
Advanced word on dire road conditions, though, was shown to work during the 1984 summer Olympics and a 1987 visit by Pope John Paul II. The city braced for the worst, but traffic flowed freely because many people stayed off the freeways.
Villaraigosa suggested that residents could spend the mid-July weekend barbecuing in their backyard.
An official with the California Department of Transportation had an even more quaint idea: Spend time getting to know the neighborhood.
"You're going to be surprised at what you're going to discover in your own neighborhood if you take that opportunity," Michael Miles said.
Crews will demolish half of the Mulholland Bridge that weekend, and another full freeway closure is expected later to tear down the other half.