Nov. 19 (UPI) -- Interstate 10, a crucial artery in Los Angeles, will reopen early Monday, well ahead of the months and weeks originally estimated to fix the roadway after it was damaged in a fire.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom said the road could be partially open Sunday evening and will be "fully operational" by Monday morning, in time for commuters and holiday travelers. Newsom, flanked by Vice President Kamala Harris and L.A. Mayor Karen Bass at a press conference, credited the speedy repairs to the construction crews and others.
"What began as months has turned into days -- before Angelenos hit the road on Monday, we're opening the 10 back up," he said. "Thanks to the tireless work of Caltrans and union construction crews and with help from our partners -- from the Mayor's office to the White House -- the 10's expedited repair is proof and a point of pride that here in California, we deliver."
The fire started under an I-10 bridge at about 12:30 a.m. on Nov. 11 and took more than 160 firefighters from 26 stations and a helicopter to battle the inferno. The flames quickly spread to nearby storage yards. Several vehicles, including a fire engine, were damaged, but crews protected three commercial buildings from the flames. More than 100 columns that bolster the bridge were damaged, closing a two-mile stretch of the roadway.
Structural engineers and others originally worried the bridge would have to be torn down, which could have taken weeks or even months to fix. Upon closer inspection, the damage wasn't as severe as originally thought, and the timeline for repairs shortened.
California Sen. Alex Padilla told The New York Times the repairs were estimated to cost $3 million, which would be covered by federal funds.
The fire, which officials said was started by an arsonist, began on a site rented by Apex Development, Inc. Authorities said the company was responsible for maintaining the site, but an Apex attorney says otherwise.
"Apex rented and improved the rundown yard and made substantial capital investments during the period that it had possession of the yard. Caltrans inspected the premises periodically, at least once a year, and Caltrans was fully aware of the sublessees and their operations," an Apex attorney said.
At the same time, authorities are continuing to search for a person of interest in the fire. Cal Fire said the man was wearing blue shorts, a black jacket and carrying a black backpack and green scarf. He had a knee brace on his right leg. Authorities said the man appeared to have visible burns on his left leg.