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Few cars on L.A. roads during 405 project

LOS ANGELES — The event that many feared would be the “Carmageddon” of epic traffic jams cruised calmly to a finish Sunday, with bridge work on the road completed nearly a full day ahead of schedule and officials reopening a 10-mile stretch of the busy freeway.

Drivers honked their horns and waved as traffic started moving in all 10 lanes of Interstate 405 just after noon for the first time since being shut down at midnight Friday.

There were no major problems while the freeway was closed, and the biggest worry of all — that the work would spill into the area’s always rough Monday morning commute — was set aside.

Officials said that during the closure, there were 65 percent fewer vehicles on freeways in the L.A. metropolitan area compared with normal weekend traffic.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa praised contractors for working so quickly and thanked residents for heeding calls to stay off the roads. He also credited news outlets for spreading word about the closure, which had been planned to last 53 hours.

Crews finished demolition work on the south side of the half-century-old Mulholland Bridge about 7 a.m., toppling two pillars. About 4,000 tons of concrete rubble was expected to be removed. The work was done to allow construction of an additional freeway lane.

The reopening attracted onlookers to a parking lot above the freeway. Albert Hill, 47, a Westwood resident, took his 3-year-old son to take photos of the empty lanes and the first cars to return to the 405.

“This is a historic moment for me. I’ve lived here my whole life, so to see it closed down, I thought it could never happen,” Hill said. “This Carmageddon thing was the best weekend ever in L.A. There was no traffic anywhere. I couldn’t believe it. I think we should have Carmageddon every weekend.”

For weeks, authorities warned people that driving this weekend could trigger what had been hyped as an event that could paralyze much of Los Angeles.

But the fears of epic traffic jams dissipated with only light weekend traffic.

“It was just so nice. It took me actually less time to get to work than it would have on a normal weekend,” said Jenn Tanaguchi, a hairstylist who drives from downtown to her job in Brentwood.

The California Department of Transportation reopened the freeway in phases. The off-ramps were opened first, then the freeway, followed by connectors from other freeways and the on-ramps, the mayor said.

Demolition work originally was expected to be completed by 2 a.m. today, followed by cleanup, reopening of the freeway at 5 a.m., and on-ramps and connectors reopened by an hour later.

Project contractor Kiewit Infra­structure West could have been fined $72,000 an hour for delay in getting the freeway reopened, according to the city’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Instead, it will get an extra $300,000 for finishing early. The project saves $400,000 — even with the Kiewit bonus — since paying workers for an additional 12-hour shift would have cost $700,000.

Another closure will take place in 11 months to demolish the rest of the bridge.

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