Los Angeles Freeway fully reopens after arson, just in time for Monday morning rush hour – NBC 7 San Diego
Los Angeles drivers returned to their normal commute Monday when an elevated section of a major highway reopened well ahead of original estimates following an arson attack that closed the road for more than a week.
The section of Interstate 10 south of downtown reopened Sunday night, and authorities assured commuters that the highway was safe after emergency work to support the structure until permanent repairs to the burned support columns were completed.
“Yes, Route 10 is open,” said Laura Rubio Cornejo, general director of the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, during a morning press conference on the condition of the highway that carries about 300,000 vehicles daily and connects to other major roads.
The inferno that broke out in the early morning of November 11 was fueled by flammable materials stored under the road in violation of the company’s lease.
Initial worst-case scenarios raised the possibility that part of the highway would be demolished and rebuilt. Officials said then that tests showed it could be repaired in three to five weeks, and that with massive supports, traffic could return much sooner.
Officials said last week that all lanes were expected to reopen by Tuesday, but moved up the reopening after significant progress during around-the-clock work.
“It wasn’t just speed that we were after. We wanted to make sure this thing was safe,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said at a news conference Sunday, joined by Vice President Kamala Harris, U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla and Mayor Karen Bass.
“This is a great day in our city,” Bass said. “Let me thank everyone who worked 24 hours to complete this effort.”
Officials said most of the repair work will take place below the road surface, but lane closures in the future are possible. Some freeway ramps and nearby streets remained closed, but traffic officers were deployed in the area to direct traffic.
The Federal Highway Administration last week provided $3 million in “quick release” funds to repair the damage and said it would provide additional money from its emergency relief program.
Investigators did not say how the fire broke out. On Saturday, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and the state Fire Marshal’s Office said they were asking for help locating a “person of interest” and posted two photos on social media showing a man in his 30s wearing a brace on his right knee. He had obvious burn injuries to his left leg.
State investigators identified fire and safety risks in rented storage space under the highway several times before it burned in the fire, documents show. The California Department of Transportation, or Caltrans, released the documents on Friday.
The fire was fueled by pallets, cars, building materials, hand sanitizer and other items that were stored under the highway as part of a program that is now under scrutiny. Newsom said the state will reevaluate the practice of leasing such lands.
Hired by Apex Development Inc. The land has been under I-10 since 2008. Although one of the terms of the contract stipulated that flammable or hazardous materials would not be allowed to be stored there, state inspectors have visited the site six times since early 2020 and have reported problematic conditions for years.
“This is a filthy lease that has not been maintained,” Inspector Darrell Myatt wrote in a 2022 report after a surprise inspection discovered solvents, oils, fuels and other items banned under the agreement. “This area has been in use since the mid-1970s and appears to be the same.”
The owners of two of the companies that sublet the property said they also warned of the fire risk and other dangers related to homeless people living under the highway. Newsom previously said that although subleasing could be legal if the company obtained permission from state and federal regulators, Apex did not.
In September, state officials filed a lawsuit against Apex, saying it owed $78,000 in unpaid rent. A hearing is scheduled for next year.
The state’s last spot inspection, a little more than a month before the Nov. 11 fire, found “numerous lease violations,” but documents released Friday did not elaborate.
Caltrans “notified Apex Development of the need to address violations, especially those that pose safety risks,” the agency said in a statement.
Mainak Dattarai, a lawyer for Apex Development, said on Wednesday that the company was not responsible for the fire, adding that the company had not been able to access the building since October.
“Apex leased the dilapidated arena, improved it and made significant capital investments during the period it owned the arena,” Dattarai’s statement added. “Caltrans inspected the building periodically, at least once a year, and CalTrans was fully aware of the subtenants and their operations. The California State Fire Marshal even inspected the building.
Dattarai did not respond to a request for comment on Saturday.
Izzy Jardon, the governor’s spokesman, last week disagreed with Dattarai’s statement that Apex was not responsible. Cal Fire believes the fire was caused by arson “in a fenced-in area that Apex was responsible for maintaining while it continued to assert rights under the lease,” Jardon said.
No injuries were reported in the fire, but at least 16 homeless people living in a camp there were taken to shelters.
Associated Press writer Sophia Tarin contributed from Chicago.
This story corrects the last name of the governor’s spokesman to Jardon, not Gordon.