The blaze that tore through the underbelly of the 10 freeway damaged nearly 100 columns, 10 seriously. Photos by Andrew Lopez for Boyle Heights Beat

Commuting across the southland has been significantly more challenging since a fire severely damaged parts of the I-10 freeway last weekend, prompting a mile-long stretch closure of the highway that would normally service 300,000 cars a day.

So where is all of that traffic going? 

Everywhere else, according to state and city officials. Semi-trucks have been congesting Los Angeles streets, and local traffic has seen an increased volume of vehicles leading to jams and snarls across the region.

Ongoing construction through a fence along 14th Street.

Governor Gavin Newsom spoke at a press conference Thursday and said the freeway portion would reopen Tuesday “at the latest” – a quicker than expected reopening plan that assuredly prompted sighs of relief from Angelenos, who had expected a closure to last for over a month. 

But despite the good news about a possible reopening, the fallout from the closure is felt by many, especially by those in Boyle Heights. 

Nathan Tiep, 42, is a Boyle Heights resident and works near Beverly Hills. He relies on the 10 freeway but since its closure, has seen his 30 minute commute increase threefold.

“What you see on the freeway is what you see on the streets now because everyone is taking alternate routes. So it’s like bumper to bumper on the streets,” Tiep said. “I know people are just trying to cut people off and try to find shortcuts, to hop back onto the freeway.”

Tiep also said that because shorter, necessary trips to places like the grocery store are now taking him twice as long, he had to readjust his commute plan and incorporate errands after or just before work. 

According to CD-14 Councilman Kevin de León, the weight of the highway closure is more of a burden to Eastside communities than it is to other Los Angeles neighborhoods. 

“Tens of thousands of families and businesses in my district are bearing the brunt of this fire, whether they work near the I-10 freeway or live in the neighboring community of Boyle Heights. It’s necessary that we take a holistic approach to address and monitor the ongoing impacts of public safety, traffic, air quality and economic fallout,” de León said in a press release. 

De León introduced a motion this week to directly address the mounting issues such as increased air pollution, the physical impact of more cars on city streets, and how detours have hurt local businesses.

The councilman plans to collaborate with other city entities, such as the Bureaus of Street Services and Street Lighting to further emphasize the “urgency of responding to both the immediate and long-term impacts of the freeway fire.”

Metro, Los Angeles county’s transportation authority, is urging commuters and travelers to take advantage of the increased service on public transit, like the Metro E Line, to comply with demand. Jose Ubaldo, a Communications Director for Metro, said the agency has the infrastructure to support the region during this time of need. 

“We have the capacity and we are just waiting for the public to come in and learn how easy it is to ride the Metro bus and rail,” Ubaldo said. 

Ubaldo also said the E line had a 10% increase in ridership on the Monday after the blaze that
damaged about 100 columns of the highway. Metro anticipated higher usage as the week went on. 

Along with Metro, the LA Department of Transportation, or LADOT, is working to get drivers off the 10 freeway a few exits before the closure and Metrolink and other bus lines are all working together to coordinate smoother commutes while also alleviating pressure on LA city streets. 

Cal Fire is also working with the city to further investigate and identify the suspected arsonist who caused the blaze. 

California Governor Gavin Newsom assured the crowd at a press conference near the burn site on Thursday evening, saying that both engineers and Caltrans, the state transportation authority managing the repairs and directing traffic, are working 24/7 to get Los Angeles moving again.  

“We’ve doubled what we’ve doubled. We’ve doubled the crews, we’ve doubled down on our efforts here and materials and supplies,” Newsom said. “We still have chemical sampling that comes in on a daily basis but the bridge structure itself seems to be in better shape than we anticipated.”

At the press conference, Mayor Karen Bass thanked the union-led workforces of nearly 250 people and other city agencies that have worked around the clock to assess and complete the necessary repairs. 

“Everybody locked arms, as we say in Los Angeles, and are getting the job done,” Bass said. “It’s a good day in LA.”

View from the main construction entrance on 14th Street and Alameda.

Jimmy “Kobe” Perez, a Special Representative of the Western States Regional Council of Carpenters’ local 213 chapter, works directly with Security Paving, one of two companies that are repairing the damaged highway. 

The congestion hasn’t affected his commute much, but Perez recognizes that other union members and business are trying to adapt to the changes. 

“Traffic is the main thing,” Perez said. “It affects everybody. It’s an interstate that’s right in the heart of LA and there’s interchanges there and it’s just horrible traffic,” Perez said. 

But despite the challenges, Perez is happy to see the city come together and the construction crews restore such a vital artery in the LA freeway ecosystem. 

“Angelenos are doing their part and are complying and doing a great job,” Perez said. 

Updates on the repair status of the I-10 freeway can be found online on Fix the 10.

Andrew Lopez is a Los Angeles native with roots all over the eastside. He studied Humanities at Pasadena City College and transferred to San Francisco State University to study Broadcast and Electronic...

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