Carmageddon in Temecula

Hard lessons learned from "Carmageddon" events: If you're going to shut down a major transportation connection during a peak tourist period, do whatever it takes to get the warning out.

Finished Product: Repaved local street in Temecula. The journey to this repaving involved weekend closures that caused major delays on the southbound I-15 freeway.
Photo: City of Temecula

Transit Talking Points by: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

Strong Marketing: LA Metro and the media did whatever it took to get the Carmageddon I-405 shutdown announcement to the public.
Graphic of Carmageddon II: LA Metro
You may remember that back in 2011, Los Angeles officials launched a massive media campaign under the title "Carmageddon" to warn motorists about the closure of the I-405 freeway during the weekend of July 15–17 through the Sepulveda Pass. A year and couple months later in September 2012, the 405 underwent Carmageddon II with the same marketing campaign.

The 405 carries about 500,000 cars per day between West LA and the San Fernando Valley, so both shutdowns had to be broadcasted to the public the way it was. This story was all over both the local and national media. Digital freeway signs all over LA warned drivers of these shut downs--with "thank you" messages afterwards.

Because of the widespread coverage, the shutdowns were a major success story as many citizens avoided the roads altogether.

Weekend traffic in LA was lighter than normal across a wide area for both closures. Metrolink also recorded record weekend ridership during the 2011 closure. Whatever LA officials did to get the word out...worked.

Temecula Ramp Closure = Big Southbound I-15 Delays

I-15 southbound delays looking south from Santiago Road
Over this last weekend as well as the weekend of June 5-7, there was an interchange shutdown in Southwest Riverside County which although was certainly not to the scale of the I-405, it should have been significant enough to call for better media coverage all throughout Southern California because traffic congestion on the southbound I-15 was a disgrace. That's because of all the weekend tourist destinations in town.

Temecula's Rancho California Road underwent repaving and was therefore closed off to traffic during both weekends. Delays along the I-15 south spanned about a whopping 45 minutes according to some locals who got stuck. As motorists were detoured to the next exit at Temecula Parkway, the queue line was so backed up that stopped cars not only blocked one but used two 70 MPH southbound traffic lanes on I-15 as virtual exit lanes, thus backing up the freeway with stop-and-go traffic for several miles. Because of the stopped bumper-to-bumper congestion, I-15 mobility looked like West LA on a Friday afternoon.

I was in the area very late on Saturday night doing a field study of this matter and southbound I-15 traffic delays were still at virtual gridlock at 11pm with the queue line of stopped cars backed up almost to Winchester Road. Conditions must have been much worse earlier in the day.

The Shutdown for a Repaving Project:

Rancho California Road was shut down during both weekends for repaving work and the southbound I-15 exit was also completely closed too with traffic detoured to Temecula Parkway. Also closed was the southbound I-15 onramp. Northbound motorists exiting at Rancho California Road as well as local traffic could not cross over the freeway at this interchange.

Both Rancho California Road and Temecula Parkway are extraordinary interchanges with high traffic volume as both roads cater to both local city traffic and motorists traveling beyond the borders of the city.

According to the City's Average Daily Traffic Volumes chart, Rancho California Road carried a whopping average of 54,900 cars per day in 2014 between the freeway and the next major surface street to the east. An average 35,180 cars was tallied on the other side. Most of the traffic comes to/from the north via the I-15. Temecula Parkway where southbound I-15 Rancho California traffic was detoured carries an astounding average of about 68,900 cars per day just east of the I-15. About 9,280 daily trips go the other way back to Old Town. Like Rancho California, most traffic comes via the I-15 to/from the north.

The current Temecula Parkway interchange infrastructure already cannot sustain its current demands let alone the majority of traffic that normally uses the Rancho California exit. Southbound queue lines from the I-15 already often spill over onto main traffic lanes creating a safety risk.

Also, being a tourist destination, consider weekend traffic as part of the rush hour in Temecula all day long.

Temecula Old Town is the Inland Empire's miniature Gas Lamp Quarter with tourist traffic flooding the district all day and all night long starting with the Farmer's Market swap meet early in the morning on Saturday and peaking shortly after dinner time as sports bars and nightclubs draw the late night crowds. South of Old Town off of Temecula Parkway is Pechaga Resort; it's rush hour during the week is the weekends too with floods of people headed to Southwest's Little Las Vegas. Let's not forget the wineries and Lake Skinner that both draw weekend tourists to the neighboring coutryside all day long.

Add up the facts, and there's Camageddon that certainly warranted better publicity and news coverage.

To be fair I saw a few stories ran in the Press Enterprise and there were digital signs all throughout the interchange area alerting motorists of the closure. Plus the California Highway Patrol was called out to direct traffic at Temecula Parkway. But if you're from out of town visiting and didn't read the PE, chances are you didn't get the warning of Temecula's Carmageddon event and experienced big time delays if you were coming in from the north plus any detour time.

Although nowhere near the magnitude of the I-405, I think this road closure during a peak period serves as reminder for any transportation agency.

If you're going to shut down a major connection at times when businesses are at their peak business hours and you've exhausted all other feasible options, follow LA's lead and do whatever it takes to get a "Carmageddon" marketing campaign announced and flooded in the news media so that motorists are better forewarned, stay clear and won't create freeway gridlock, especially if the detour route involves infrastructure that cannot handle the extra flood of traffic.

Meanwhile, Carmageddon in Temecula is over. The next time you're in Southwest Riverside County, enjoy the newly paved section of Rancho California Road on the way to the wineries, Old Town, or whereever your destination is.


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