The closed portion of Los Angeles’ Interstate 10, which was ravaged by a massive fire over the weekend, will be repaired and reopened in three to five weeks, California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Tuesday.
Investigators are still working to determine who is responsible for the fire that officials say was likely caused by arson.
The closure of this essential stretch of freeway in downtown Los Angeles, which officials say channels more than 300,000 drivers each day, has caused a traffic nightmare for commuters and area residents.
Inspectors determined the section of the freeway affected would not need to be demolished and replaced, allowing workers to focus instead on repairing the existing structure, Newsom told reporters. That means reopening the freeways will take a matter of weeks, he said, rather than the months long endeavor some were initially bracing for.
“We’re going to do everything in our power to move that into the more immediate future and not extend this to that five-week period,” Newsom added, noting that officials will continue working on repairs 24/7, until the freeway is open again. He said there’s a possibility the freeway will partially reopen while it is under construction.
“Angelenos, it’s good news,” Mayor Karen Bass said Tuesday. “The freeway will not have to come down, so it’s not a month. We’re talking about weeks.”
Still, the closure has caused major disruption to the Los Angeles area, impacting local school bus routes and nearby businesses. Commuters who are impacted have been urged to take public transit, work from home or plan alternate traffic routes.
“There’s no reason for this to be the disaster that it could be, if people are not informed, do not telecommute and do not take public transportation,” Bass said.
Newsom has declared a state of emergency for Los Angeles County due to the closure of the freeway, which he said plays a major role in the city’s economy, and in the health and safety of its people.
“Losing this stretch of the 10 freeway will take time and money from people’s lives and businesses,” Bass said in a Monday news conference. “For commuters, we’re still exploring ways to open up faster and more effective routes of communication.”
Here’s what we know about the arson investigation and efforts to reopen the highway.
Investigators sorting through several tips, governor says
Investigators have been able to “confidently determine” arson was the cause of the fire, which was reported early Saturday at a storage yard and quickly spread under the interstate to a second facility, State Fire Marshal Daniel Berlant said Monday.
It’s unclear how many people were involved, Berlant said, urging anyone with video or information about the incident to contact authorities.
The preliminary investigation determined that the overnight fire was started with “malice intent” and was “set intentionally,” Newsom announced Monday.
Some preliminary tips have already been submitted, he added, encouraging others who may have information to come forward.
The state fire marshal’s office is still piecing together other key details, including how the fire was ignited and whether multiple people were involved in the incident, which is believed to be arson, Berlant said.
Investigators have sifted through the fire’s rubble in search of evidence and are working with Los Angeles firefighters to canvass the surrounding neighborhoods for potential witnesses and video footage, the fire marshal added.
Firefighters responded to reports of the fire around 12:30 a.m. Saturday at a storage yard scattered with pallets, trailers and vehicles, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department. Wind soon pushed the blaze under the freeway and across the street, where flames began to consume a second storage facility.
More than 160 firefighters responded to the site and were able to defend three nearby commercial buildings as they extinguished much of the fire within hours, according to city fire chief Kristin Crowley. No injuries have been reported.
Bridge is not at risk of collapse, official says
Officials do not believe the highway will collapse, John Yang, deputy district director for construction for the California Department of Transportation, said.
The damaged stretch includes a large bridge that spans five lanes in each direction, according to Yang. About 100 columns beneath the bridge were impacted by fire and are being inspected, according to transportation department director Tony Tavares.
Structural engineers will analyze concrete and rebar samples taken from the underside of the freeway and others extracted from the core in order to make recommendations in the coming days about what repairs need to be made, California Secretary of Transportation Toks Omishakin said.
“We have no concern for worker safety working underneath,” Yang said.
The lease to the property where the fire started is held by Apex Development, according to Newsom, who accused the company of being in violation of the lease.
“They stopped paying their rent, they’re out of compliance, and … they have been subleasing this site to at least five, maybe as many as six tenants” without required state and federal authorization, Newsom said Monday.
The state has been in a “litigious posture” with the company “for some time,” the governor said, noting state prosecutors will face Apex Development in court early next year. CNN has sought comment from Apex Development.
Newsom said “there were no surprises” over the materials that were found at the site.
“It was what we had assumed: simple pallets, wooden pallets, metal and other recycling materials,” he said Tuesday. “No highly hazardous materials or contaminants were found on site. All this will be cleaned up by the end of the week.”
Newsom said there are “thousands and thousands” of such leases throughout the state, both private and public. “They are all being reviewed, and our inspection routines are being reviewed.”
CNN’s Matt Phillips, Melissa Alonso and Andy Rose contributed to this report.
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