Carmageddon Closure of the 91 through the Corona Crawl

by: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

As soon as officials announced the full weekend closure of the 91 Freeway through Corona, both the media and the marketing departments of government agencies got the word out. The Riverside County Transportation Commission is calling the campaign of the planned Carmageddon closure "91 Steer Clear." Good. Word of this shutdown must be made loud and clear.

As reported, the weekend shut down of all eastbound and westbound lanes on the 91 between the 71 and I-15 will occur from Friday, February 19, 2016 at 9 pm until Monday, February 22, 2016 at 4 am. Motorists are advised to visit the official website for up-to-date information as it rolls out. In addition, Metrolink will offer double weekend service during 91 closure combined with a 2-for-1 promotional fare. That way, those who do need to travel through Santa Ana Canyon will have expanded transit options.

This is exactly what both the press and government agencies should be doing. Wholesale closures like this require cooperative efforts in advising motorists to stay at home through the weekend or use available mass transit options. In 2011 and 2012, Los Angeles area government marketing teams did exactly what is happening now when LA Metro twice shut down the I-405 through the Sepulveda Pass. Marketing was superior. The press echoed the news front and center. Many were fearful that LA and alternative connectors between the San Fernando Valley and West LA would experience gridlock. But the opposite was true. During the shutdown, traffic was lighter than normal across a wide area and Caltrans reported that fewer vehicles used the roads than usual. Plus, the Metrolink train system experienced a spike in ridership.

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
So here's the kicker: Motorists absolutely must not take this reality for granted nor assume traffic will be lighter. That means don't drive within the Carmageddon zone. The marketing campaigns must call for minimizing weekend leisure travel between OC and Inland Empire by car, period.

As this blog has documented time and time again, unplanned "Carmageddons" have already occurred on both the 91 and I-15 in areas with no or few alternative routes which resulted in gridlock and delays lasting hours.

Just yesterday at around 3:30am on the I-15, a moving truck struck the center divider area along the northbound I-15 through Temescal Canyon. The trailer caught fire and the cargo had to be transferred before it could be towed out of the way nearly six hours later. That created 45-60 minute delays during the Thursday morning commute in the northbound lanes with traffic stopped out of Lake Elsinore. In December, a tanker fire north of Lake Elsinore blocked southbound I-15 freeway peak-hour traffic from Corona. The single frontage road through Temescal Canyon was also fully gridlocked. Delays literally spanned several hours. Commuters leaving Corona after 5pm didn't arrive in Southwest County until well after 8pm. Last summer, Mother Nature dumped heavy rains on the 91 freeway through the Santa Ana Canyon which prompted an emergency inspection and repair; with no direct alternative roads, that lead to rush hour traffic delays of 1-2 hours. Other traffic incidents through the Canyon have led to extensive back-ups, clogging the streets of Circle City. Not too long ago, Temecula had one of its major interchanges closed during a weekend for repaving but publicity was too little which resulted in gridlock in the area.

But this Carmageddon closure is planned and the marketing has been well done. RCTC advises motorists to "steer clear." And that has to happen. Everybody spreading the message must make that point clear so that motorists won't fall into the temptation of unnessary travel in the impacted areas. If the motorists cooperate, just like how they did in LA a few years back, this Carmageddon will not result in gridlock in Corona.

Everybody has to do their part.