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Fire-damaged Los Angeles freeway repairs will take three to five weeks, California governor says

The site of a fire is seen under Interstate 10, Monday, Nov. 13, 2023, in Los Angeles. Los Angeles drivers are being tested in their first commute since a weekend fire that closed a major elevated interstate near downtown.
Jae C. Hong
The site of a fire is seen under Interstate 10, Monday, Nov. 13, 2023, in Los Angeles. Los Angeles drivers are being tested in their first commute since a weekend fire that closed a major elevated interstate near downtown.

It will take at least three weeks to repair a Los Angeles freeway damaged in an arson fire, the California governor said Tuesday, leaving the city already accustomed to soul-crushing traffic without part of a vital artery that serves hundreds of thousands of people daily.

But things could have been worse. California Gov. Gavin Newsom said officials have determined the elevated section of Interstate 10 will not need to be demolished after analysis of core samples taken from the freeway.

About 100 columns burned in the Saturday blaze that spread over 8 acres (3 hectares) under I-10, tearing through wood pallets, cars and other construction materials being stored under the freeway. No injuries were reported but at least 16 homeless people living there were taken to shelters.


No arrests have been made and Newsom said Monday that investigators are trying to determine if more than one person was involved in the arson. He provided no other details.

Newsom said crews are looking at repairs lasting anywhere from three to five weeks.

“We’re going to do everything in our power to move that into a more immediate future and not extend this to that five-week period," Newsom told reporters Tuesday, saying crews will work round-the-clock to shore up and repair the area. "This is good news, under the circumstances, and I’ve got to say, on the basis of the preliminary assessments, news that frankly a lot of folks, particularly the experts you see behind me, didn’t expect to share.”

An estimated 300,000 vehicles use the stretch of freeway daily, which runs east-west across the heart of the metropolis and connects with other major freeways. The city has been urging people to work from home and avoid the area.

There was little congestion during the Monday morning commute, indicating drivers heeded warnings, but the evening commute was busier.


Drivers were being re-routed on to surface streets south of downtown which saw a 14.7% increase in traffic volume. Traffic engineers adjusted signal patterns to deal with the load, said Laura Rubio-Cornejo, general manager of the city Department of Transportation.

Mayor Karen Bass acknowledged things will be rough for awhile, saying “three to five weeks is a long time for us, but this is good news -- repair instead of demolition and rebuilding the highway," which would have taken months.

Beyond a massive traffic headache, the closure is expected to be felt well beyond the metropolis, including possibly slowing the transportation of goods from the twin ports of LA and Long Beach, federal officials said. The ports handle more than half of the goods coming into the country. President Joe Biden has been briefed on the fire.

Officials have said the damage is reminiscent of the 1994 Northridge earthquake that crumpled elevated sections of I-10. It took more than two months to repair I-10 after the quake, and that was considered significantly fast.

The mayor said Security Paving Co. Inc., which has been hired for the project was one of the companies that repaired the freeways damaged by that earthquake.

The closure has raised concerns for downtown businesses.

“Our businesses are just bouncing back from the COVID shutdowns. Business was just getting good,” said Blair Besten, director of LA’s Historic Core business improvement district.

California Fire Marshal Daniel Berlant said investigators have identified where the fire started and what caused it after sorting through the rubble for evidence, but did not specify what they found. He had no information on a suspect and that investigators are talking to witnesses, including homeless people and nearby business owners.

Storage yards under highways are common statewide, with the money from the leases going to public transit. Newsom said the practice would be reevaluated following the fire.

The governor said California has been in litigation with Apex Development, Inc., the owner of the business leasing the storage property where the fire started. The lease has expired, Newsom said, and the business had been behind in rent while illegally subleasing the space to five or six other entities.

“They’ve been out of compliance for some time, that’s why we’re going to court” early next year, Newsom said.

Mainak D’Attaray, an attorney for Apex Development, confirmed the lawsuit in an email to The Associated Press.

“We are currently investigating ourselves what happened at the yard under the freeway. As such, we are not prepared to give an official statement or answer questions until we have determined what actually occurred,” D’Attaray said.

Ertugrul Taciroglu, chair of the civil and environmental engineering department at the University of California, Los Angeles, said part of the challenge is how expensive real estate has become.

“Every piece of land is being utilized, so I can see the pressure or the incentives for making use of these spaces under these highways,” he said.