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10 Highway Reopens Earlier Than Expected, But It’s Still Unclear When Repairs Will Finish

Morning traffic returned without much fanfare Monday to the 10 Freeway in downtown Los Angeles, propped up by a series of temporary shoring structures and still bearing the black scorch marks caused by the massive fire that burned beneath the viaduct this month.

A small army of construction workers erected the shoring posts over the past week with “more than 100 tons of large steel beams and enough heavy 12-inch by 12-inch wooden posts to span one kilometer if placed end to end,” according to a press release from the California Department of Transportation.

Although commuters can travel on the highway now that shoring has lightened the fire-damaged concrete columns, repair work still needs to be done and there will likely be phased closures to repair the upper portion of the highway, according to officials.

“A lot of the work is actually going to happen under the road,” Rafael Molina, deputy director of Caltrans’ traffic operations division, said during a traffic briefing Monday morning.

But the actual nature of this work remains unclear. Caltrans, the state agency responsible for the design and maintenance of the state’s highways, has not released any information on the timeline for repairs.

Caltrans declined an interview request from The Times about the repair project.

After the Nov. 11 fire, which is being investigated as arson as authorities search for a “person of interest,” officials initially said it would take three to five weeks to reopen the freeway safely, but the mile-long stretch between Alameda Street and the East Los Angeles interchange was closed for eight days and reopened Sunday around 7 p.m.

Vice President Kamala Harris joined Governor Gavin Newsom, Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) and Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass in emphasizing that the operation to reopen the interstate several weeks before the planned date was a joint effort of local, federal and state agencies. .

“Tomorrow, travel starts again,” Harris said Sunday from the highway bridge. “Happy Thanksgiving everyone.”

Monday morning, traffic roared overhead as a handful of contractors wearing hard hats and high-visibility vests took action.

Traffic jams had speeds of about 25 mph in the westbound lanes and traffic cleared at the interchange with the 110 Freeway next to the Los Angeles Convention Center.

Esmeralda Guerra, 33, wondered why her commute from downtown Los Angeles to Boyle Heights, where she works at a makeshift station for the East Los Angeles Women’s Center distributing free COVID tests and alcohol wipes, had been reduced by half on Monday.

She cheered when she learned the highway was reopened.

“Oh, that’s great news,” she said, translating the news into Spanish for a colleague who also celebrated.

Robert Vargas, 26, made a quick trip to downtown Los Angeles from Boyle Heights using the subway’s E Line train.

There was no difference in his 10-minute commute from Mariachi Plaza station to Historic Broadway station compared to last week, he said, but he noticed the streets were less busy.

“There are fewer trucks in Boyle Heights and local streets near downtown are significantly clearer,” he said.

Traffic flowed freely at the intersection of Whittier Boulevard and Soto Street in Boyle Heights Monday morning, a far cry from last week, when tractor-trailers making wide turns blocked the intersection and delayed traffic. traffic, with some neighbors complaining about exhaust fumes.

Lisa Liang, 54, an employee at nearby Chinese restaurant Jin Dragon, said she can make a difference on Soto Street.

“Traffic is much better today on this main road,” said Liang, who commutes between Alhambra and Boyle Heights every weekday for his job.

“Last week it took 20 minutes from the Alhambra,” she said. “Today only 12 minutes.”

Last week, 29-year-old Elodie Graham’s usual 10-minute commute from Silver Lake to downtown Los Angeles turned into a 30-minute slog as freeway detour traffic poured in on surface streets.

But Monday was a different story.

“It was totally back to normal,” Graham said. “It might also be due to the week of Thanksgiving, but it ended up being normal today.”

Before building the shoring structures that allowed traffic to return to the 10, Caltrans cleared more than two dozen burned vehicles and approximately 264,000 cubic feet of improperly stored hazardous materials from beneath the overpass.

“Thanks to the heroic work of Caltrans and union construction crews and with the help of our partners – from the Mayor’s Office to the White House – the expedited repair of 10 is proof and a point of pride that here in California, we deliver,” Newsom said. in a previous statement.

Initial tests showed the fire “caused less structural damage than expected,” Caltrans said in a news release, and authorities credited Los Angeles firefighters for putting out the fire before it burned. causes more damage.

Hours after the fire, engineers set to work calculating the combined highway load and vehicle traffic that would need to be supported by shoring, according to a Caltrans engineer who was not authorized to speak publicly and requested anonymity.

Designs for specific repairs to the columns will follow, which will be reviewed by seismic and construction experts, according to the engineer.

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