Construction crews got a jump start on the closure of the California Incline on Sunday night, taking drivers and residents in Santa Monica by surprise.
The iconic bridge that connects Ocean Avenue to Pacific Coast Highway was closed to traffic at 9 p.m. -- 10 hours earlier than expected. The decision to close the route early was due to morning traffic, said project manager Jeff McDermott.
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"We were thinking about the traffic flow this morning," McDermott said. "With our crews trying to restripe and put up the barricades, we just thought we'd be in the way of people trying to get to work today."
The incline was scheduled to be shut down for at least a year for a $20 million project seismic upgrade project.
"It's in disrepair," said McDermott. "A good earthquake -- this thing comes down. It couldn't wait much longer."
The city of Santa Monica put flashing signs as far as 25 miles away, in Agoura Hills, warning commuters from Thousand Oaks and beyond that PCH will be extra-congested.
But to Mar Vista resident Terry Barak, the construction project was more than necesary, with a bad road surface that made it hard to bike or drive on.
""I really appreciate the fact that there's going to be some much improved infrastructure for pedestrians and bicyclists," Barak said.
McDermott said Monday the construction team decided to close the Incline early because "we just thought we'd be in the way of people trying to get to work today."
About 13,000 cars per day use the aging California Incline to access PCH from downtown Santa Monica, or vice versa. The traffic count on PCH is 80,000 cars per day.
The closure will mean a crunch on the coastal road at two places: the complicated traffic signals at Chautauqua Boulevard, West Channel Road and Entrada Drive, north of the incline, and near the 10 Freeway terminus at the McClure Tunnel.
Santa Monica officials are hoping to detour coastal traffic over to the Lincoln Boulevard interchange, and around likely bottlenecks on the Ocean Avenue and West Channel Road alternatives. The Ocean Avenue ramp deposits vehicles into a Metro Expo Line construction zone, and Entrada is already overloaded between PCH and Santa Monica.
The California Incline is a two-block-long bridge that carries traffic up the side of a cliff, was built in 1930, and is falling apart. Santa Monica officials are worried about earthquakes or landslides, and plan to demolish the old bridge, shore up the cliffs, and build a new incline that looks like the old one.
Not only better suited to handle an earthquake, the new bridge will be wider than the old one, McDermott said. It'll also be safer for pedestrians and bicyclists, who will be shielded from vehicle traffic by a concrete barrier.
City News Service contributed to this report.