The Changing Face of the 405

The statute of limitations on whether my parents can get mad at me for lying to them when I was in high school has now expired, which is why I can pen this article …

When I was a junior in high school, the 405 was a gateway to all things way cooler than things at home. The clothes, the hairdos, the real stuff to do—all of it seemingly more exciting and cutting-edge. 

It was roughly a 16-mile drive from my parents’ house to Westwood. Clad in a white Guess mini-skirt and sporting frosted pink lipgloss, I rode shotgun in my friend Mary’s Honda for an adventure. Of course, my mom and dad didn’t have a clue. Having just turned 16, I wasn’t allowed to drive the freeways. I wasn’t permitted to go to Westwood either … nor were the three girls in the backseat. As we transitioned from the 101 to the 405, we were nothing less than giddy. The Go-Go’s blasted from the radio. The drive was smooth, our hopes were high and our hair was huge!

In the 20-ish years since my first un-parented flight to the Westside, the 405 has aged … who hasn’t? But while most of us fiercely fight to whittle down and firm up, the 405 is now adding to its girth.

Kiewit Infrastructure West landed the contract for what’s formally billed as the I-405 Sepulveda Pass Improvements Project. The price tag for this construction rings in at just more than $1 billion. In case you’re wondering, here’s what that’ll buy us:
• 10 miles of HOV (high-occupancy vehicle) lanes running seamlessly between the Valley and Orange County
• 18 miles of sky-high retaining and sound walls
• 27 realigned on- and off-ramps
• 3 reconstructed bridges; Skirball Center Drive, Sunset Boulevard and Mulholland Drive will all eventually be torn down, materials crushed onsite and recycled to form the base of the new roadway
• Wider lanes from the Santa Monica Freeway to the Ventura Freeway
• Aesthetically pleasing/environmentally-friendly landscaping requiring little maintenance or water
 • And, hopefully, increased carpools with decreased drive time and pollution



I ask Metro’s project director Mike Barbour if all this construction is really worth it. “To me, you have to keep trying to make traffic better,” he replies. “This is one example of having the HOV connected, and it will make a significant difference to people who carpool.”

Judy Gish of the California Department of Transportation explains just how significant the difference will be. “Time spent behind the wheel will be decreased by an average of one minute a mile for drivers in carpool lanes.” She points out, “This also helps drivers in other lanes, because it pulls cars from those lanes to the carpool.” Already the carpool lanes on the 405 are the most utilized in the world, according to Dave Sotero of Metro.

Goals and projections aside, closures and delays are a source of frustration for residents and commuters. Celebrity hairstylist Barry Reitman calls his commute from his home to the Juan Juan Salon in Beverly Hills “a nightmare.” He questions whether increased public transportation was ever seriously entertained. Ditto for local resident Marianne Ellis. However, even with her husband working in El Segundo, she supports the project. “Anything that’s going to help us with traffic is worth it.” She touts the unexpected perks: “We’ve been gaining more patience and spending more time at home.” 

Suffice it to say, these days a trip on the 405 no longer gets my adrenalin pumping. As a freelance TV reporter and producer, luckily, I drive it only occasionally. 

However, last week I experienced a slice of the inconvenience many face daily. If construction calls for any lane closures, it must take place between the hours of 9 p.m. and 6 a.m., precisely when I tried in vain to transition from the 10 to the 405. After a stint on unfamiliar side streets, I maneuvered back onto the freeway and ogled the dinosaur-sized machinery manned by the brave, hard-working construction crews. They labor like elves in the night while most of the city sleeps, all in an effort to make the 405 bigger, better and faster than before. Let’s hope it works.