LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Additional traffic officers will be in place this weekend to help motorists navigate high-profile events in the downtown area while restoration work continues on the fire-damaged portion of the Santa Monica (10) Freeway, which is expected to reopen by Tuesday, officials said.
Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass announced Friday that the additional traffic officers will help alleviate congestion at the:
-- USC vs. UCLA football game at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum on Saturday
-- Los Angeles Kings at the Crypto.com Arena on Saturday
-- Los Angeles Rams at So-Fi Stadium on Sunday
-- Los Angeles Lakers at the Crypto.com Arena on Sunday
-- The L.A. Auto Show at the L.A. Convention Center Saturday and Sunday
Similar resources were also on hand for Friday's Los Angeles Clippers game at Crypto.com Arena and the start of the L.A. Auto Show.
Bass earlier directed the Los Angeles City Department of Transportation to make Commuter Express and DASH buses free to encourage commuters to use public transportation. She also requested an increase in the number of white-glove traffic officers in congested areas to assist commuters through busy intersections.
In addition, Bass said assistance would be available to downtown businesses impacted by the freeway closure.
"During this difficult time and beyond, my message is the same -- Los Angeles stands with businesses," the mayor said.
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.
A dedicated resource center for freeway closure issues has also been added to the existing Business Source Centers.
Information on these and other resources is available at emergency.lacity.gov.
Meanwhile, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the freeway will reopen with five lanes in both directions by Tuesday.
The original estimate for the repair work was three to five weeks, with officials saying structural repairs were needed not only on the freeway deck but on as many as 100 support columns that were damaged in an early morning fire last Saturday that erupted in a storage yard beneath the roadway.
Engineers later determined that the damage was not as extensive as originally feared.
"That is a significant improvement on the basis of our original timeline, three to five weeks," Newsom said at an early evening news conference Thursday at the construction site. "... By Tuesday of next week, trucks, passenger vehicles in both directions will be moving again. And that is simply due to the extraordinary work again of the folks behind me.
"... Things continue to move favorably in our direction," he said. "That is not guaranteed. We still have chemical sampling that comes in on a daily basis, but the bridge structure itself seems to be in better shape than we anticipated."
Newsom thanked workers "who have been working around the clock, we're on track to open the 10 before millions of Angelenos hit the road for Thanksgiving."
A beaming Bass proclaimed during the same news conference, "This is a good day in Los Angeles."
"All of the stars have been aligned, been aligned on behalf of Angelenos," she said.
Bass thanked commuters who have 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 last few days have been difficult, but everybody has cooperated and I want to say thank you, thank you, thank you," Bass said. "... What a gift for Los Angeles to have right before a holiday to know your commute will be better."
In the immediate aftermath of the overnight fire last Saturday morning, officials feared the freeway might be out of operation for as many as six months if the damage was severe enough to require the structure to be demolished and rebuilt.
However, earlier this week Newsom said testing on samples of rebar and concrete on the freeway deck and support columns showed the damage was not as bad as initially feared, meaning it could be repaired rather than rebuilt.
That pushed the timeline back to three to five weeks, but the latest update now reduces the wait to a matter of days.
State officials announced 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.
State officials established a website at fixthe10.ca.gov to provide the latest information on the repair process.
The initial fire was reported at 12:22 a.m. last Saturday 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, Stewart said.
Investigators said the fire appears to have been intentionally set, breaking out within the fenceline of a storage yard. Officials have declined to indicate exactly how the fire may have been set or to say how they so quickly determined it was arson.
Bass said there are security cameras in the area, but it was unclear whether any of them caught the culprit or culprits in the act.
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.
Another court hearing in the case is expected early next year.
Newsom said Caltrans is reviewing all similar leases to determine if other companies might be violating lease terms. Bass said she has asked all city general managers to report if their agencies have any active leases of property beneath the freeway.
Earlier Thursday, Bass, who also chairs the Metro Board of Directors, introduced a proposal with a series of steps she wants the transit agency to take to encourage the use of public transportation as long as the freeway is closed.
Among the directives included in the motion are a lifting of the ride cap for Metro low-income fare LIFE program, coordination with local jurisdictions to speed up trains and buses in the closure area and increase the number of "Transit Ambassadors" on the system to assist riders, particularly those who may be riding for the first time.
The motion also calls for free use of the Metro Bike-Share system during the closure and reduced daily parking rates of 10 cents at Metro Park and Ride lots.
"Metro has reported that ridership on the E (Expo) Line is up 10%, which runs parallel to the freeway," Bass said in a statement. "This shows that our message to take Metro during the closure is resonating, but we have an opportunity to do more to address the impacts for communities and commuters during the closure and beyond, and that is what we will continue to urgently work toward."
Several other Metro board members seconded the motion, including county Supervisors Janice Hahn, Holly Mitchell and Hilda Solis, Whittier Mayor pro tem Fernando Dutra and Glendale City Councilman Ara Najarian.
"This is about common sense solutions to help more people get where they need to on the bus or train while we fix the I-10 as quickly as possible," Hahn said in a statement.
The closed portion of Interstate 10 between Alameda Street and the East L.A. Interchange typically carries about 300,000 vehicles per day.
Investigators urged anyone with information about the initial fire to call a hotline at 800-468-4408.