In a world of highways, accidents, and traffic jams, praise for a highway maintenance event is rare. Carmageddon is the ‘code name’ for the first phase of a CalTrans (California Department of Transportation) project to add a single carpool lane to a 10-mile stretch of I-405. For LA, this project required the unthinkable—scheduled closing of a freeway from Friday to Sunday. 

Carmageddon 1, as this non-event is dubbed, was completed 17 hours ahead of schedule. Some credit for on-time completion is due to the prospect of $6000 fines for each side—and each 10-minute period—that the freeway remained closed beyond the 53 hour scheduled shutdown. Nonetheless, this phase of the project was completed on-time, and in fact ahead of schedule.

Another measure of credit for this success is given to an unlikely contributor, specifically the name “Carmageddon” given to the event. Scary-sounding, the name itself triggered a successful communication plant that avoided not only the direst predictions of massive traffic jams in the LA area, but any noticeable traffic issues. The event post-mortem included: three people dining surreptitiously on a closed I-405 lane, and coverage of JetBlue’s promotional $4 fare from Burbank to Long Beach Airport.

On June 29, 1956, President Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, and the U.S. interstate highway system was born. That system just celebrated its 55th birthday, and maintenance events can be expected with greater frequency. Transportation officials would do well to use Carmageddon as a playbook for on-time execution, effective public communication, and minimal traffic disruption.

 


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