California Governor Gavin Newsom announced on Tuesday that a stretch of Interstate 10 in Los Angeles, which was severely damaged in an act of arson, can be repaired within three to five weeks without the need for demolition. Core samples taken from the freeway were analyzed to determine the extent of the damage. Approximately 100 columns were affected in the fire, which was started by arson but has yet to result in any arrests. Newsom expressed his desire to complete the repairs before the five-week mark, emphasizing the importance of restoring this vital artery for the hundreds of thousands of vehicles that rely on it daily.
The investigation into the arson is ongoing, and officials are trying to determine if multiple individuals were involved. While the cause of the fire has been identified, critical questions regarding whether the structure needs to be rebuilt or can be repaired and the timeline for reopening the freeway remain unanswered. The fire, which occurred in the early morning hours of Saturday, burned through two storage lots beneath an elevated section of I-10, engulfing pallets, vehicles, and other materials across an area of 8 acres. No injuries were reported, but 16 homeless individuals living under the freeway were relocated to shelters for their safety.
The closure of this major freeway has posed significant challenges for commuters, who have had to navigate alternative routes or surface street detours since Monday. The Monday morning commute showed minimal congestion as drivers followed warnings, but the evening commute experienced much heavier traffic. Engineers adjusted signal patterns to accommodate the increased volume on surface streets, which saw a 14.7% rise in traffic. The impact of the closure extends beyond the metropolis, potentially affecting the transportation of goods from the ports of LA and Long Beach, which handle over half of the country’s imports.
The damage caused by the fire brings to mind the 1994 Northridge earthquake, which also resulted in significant destruction on I-10. Repairing the freeway after the earthquake took over two months, which was considered a swift recovery. As authorities continue to assess the damage, Newsom mentioned that early tests indicate the deck of the freeway is stronger than initially believed. Samples of concrete and rebar taken from the superstructure, decks, and columns will provide further insight into whether repair or replacement is necessary.
According to Federal Highway Administrator Shailen Bhatt, the timeframe for resolving the closure is still uncertain, though it will undoubtedly have spillover impacts. Bhatt referenced the collapse of an elevated section of Interstate 95 in Philadelphia due to a fiery crash in June as an example of the nationwide consequences such incidents can have. Downtown businesses are also concerned about the closure’s effects, particularly as they were just beginning to recover from the COVID-19 shutdowns.
Investigators have identified the origin and cause of the fire but have not provided specific details. California Fire Marshal Daniel Berlant stated that witnesses, including homeless individuals and nearby business owners, are being interviewed as part of the investigation. The storage yards under highways, which generate revenue for public transit, will be reevaluated following the incident. Newsom revealed that California has been involved in litigation with Apex Development, Inc., the owner of the business leasing the storage property where the fire originated. The expired lease and illegal subleasing of the space to multiple entities led to the legal action.
Ertugrul Taciroglu, chair of the civil and environmental engineering department at the University of California, Los Angeles, highlighted the challenge of utilizing every piece of land due to the high cost of real estate in the area. The need for space has led to the practice of utilizing areas beneath highways, such as the storage lots damaged in the fire.