Los Angeles drivers using one of the region’s busiest freeways will have to change their travel plans indefinitely as officials assess the damage caused by a Saturday morning fire that closed part of a freeway downtown.
All lanes on a nearly two-mile stretch of Interstate 10 will be closed until further notice, Caltrans, the state transportation department, confirmed Sunday, and it was unclear how long the repairs.
The section is what one official called one of the “largest arteries” into and out of downtown Los Angeles, just west of the East Los Angeles interchange, where several freeways meet. About 300,000 vehicles use the highway for daily travel between Los Angeles and Orange County, California, Gov. Gavin Newsom said at a news conference Sunday afternoon. And it’s a major channel connecting Southern California’s ports to the rest of the country, moving about 20,000 trucks a day.
As Interstate 10 remains closed between Alameda Street and Santa Fe Avenue, officials said people planning to travel to and from downtown Los Angeles should plan for delays and check alternative routes.
Mayor Karen Bass is asking downtown businesses to allow their employees to work from home if possible and encouraged anyone whose route typically requires the highway to use public transportation if possible.
Alberto Carvalho, Los Angeles’ superintendent of schools, said the damage could cause delays in school transportation, but all schools would remain open.
On Sunday, the effects of the closure were already visible in the streets near the highway. A strong smell of fire hung in the air mid-morning near the Alameda Street exit, with frustrated motorists honking their horns as traffic backed up.
Business at a Shell gas station at the east exit of 14th Street, which is part of the closed section, was already down about 50 percent over the past 24 hours, according to manager Alexander Shenouda. . Mr Shenouda, 40, said some workers on the highway had told him it could be weeks before the exit reopened.
More than 160 firefighters worked for several hours to extinguish the fire, which was reported early Saturday morning at a storage yard housing wooden pallets, abandoned vehicles, auto parts and shipping containers. The flames quickly spread to another tank farm and about 400 feet of the highway was damaged, Mr. Newsom said.
The intense flames hit nearly 100 columns supporting the highway, the governor added. They also melted some guardrails and knocked chunks of concrete off the viaduct, photos and videos show.
“What looks problematic on the outside may not be the real problem,” Newsom said. “It’s what’s underneath.”
A nearby camp for homeless people was evacuated. About 16 people attended, Ms. Bass said. No deaths or injuries were reported, she said.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation, which should be completed by Monday morning, Newsom said. Structural engineers will take a closer look at the damage once the investigation is complete.
The governor added that authorities have already examined the ownership records of the land under the highway and are taking legal action.
The closure prompted Mr. Newsom to declare a state of emergency on Saturday evening, as authorities rushed to assess the damage and organize repair work.
In a statement, Ms. Bass compared the level of structural damage to that of a 1994 earthquake, during which Caltrans “worked around the clock” to repair highways.
The mayor also said she spoke with Pete Buttigieg, the U.S. Transportation Secretary, who told her the White House was prepared to address the city’s additional infrastructure needs.
Ms. Bass and Mr. Newsom visited the site, an industrial area, on Sunday to examine the damage under the viaduct at the 14th Street exit.
According to government data, this section is much busier than the portion of a Northeast Philadelphia highway that collapsed in June, after a tanker truck caught fire. That structure, on Interstate 95, suffered significant damage but reopened in less than two weeks, after officials initially estimated that replacing the collapsed portion would take months. The state continues repairs see you next year.
Rebecca Carballo reports contributed.