- Associated Press - Monday, July 18, 2011

LOS ANGELES — A major Los Angeles freeway construction shutdown and breathless warnings of “Carmageddon” gridlock were in the rearview mirror Monday morning for motorists heading into the four-hour commuter rush.

“Everything is wide open,” California Highway Patrol Officer Krystal Carter said before dawn from the Los Angeles dispatch.

Freeway electronic message signs blinked brightly at the 5 a.m. start of the commuter rush period with the words, “405 FREEWAY OPEN THANK YOU LOS ANGELES.”

Feared epic traffic jams from Interstate 405’s weekend shutdown to remove half of the sweeping Mulholland Drive freeway overpass never materialized.

“This weekend was more of a ‘Carmaheaven’ than a Carmageddon,” Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said in a statement.

The 10-mile freeway stretch linking the San Fernando Valley and the Los Angeles Westside was shut down Friday night for what was supposed to be a project ending at dawn Monday.

But crews finished early and the freeway reopened on Sunday, 17 hours ahead of schedule.

Officials were optimistic next year’s sequel — removal of the other half of the bridge — will run just as smoothly.

Drivers led by California Highway Patrol officers honked their horns and waved from car windows as traffic started moving in all 10 lanes of the 405 just after noon Sunday.

Villaraigosa praised contractors for working so quickly and thanked city residents for heeding calls to stay off the roads. He also gave credit to news outlets for spreading word about the closure, which had been planned to last for 53 hours.

“I’d like to thank all Angelenos for heeding the call and staying in their neighborhoods,” Villaraigosa said. “Thanks to their patience and cooperation, the city’s roads and highways were practically empty.

Crews finished demolition work on the bridge early Sunday, toppling two massive pillars and creating about 4,000 tons of rubble to be removed.

For months, authorities had warned that a domino effect could paralyze much of Los Angeles, and signs warning drivers about the closure appeared as far away as the San Francisco Bay Area.

But officials said during the closure there were 65 percent fewer automobiles on freeways in the LA metro area than an average weekend.

“It took me actually less time to get to work than it would have on a normal weekend,” said Jenn Tanaguchi, a hairstylist who has to drive from downtown to her job at a salon in Brentwood. “People were telling me that I would have to leave two hours early.”

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