Crews working to clear hazardous materials left behind from the destructive fire that significantly damaged the 10 Freeway in downtown Los Angeles have finished ahead of schedule, clearing the way for Caltrans crews to begin the work needed to reopen the vital roadway.
On Wednesday, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced that Caltrans emergency contractors cleared all the hazardous materials from the repair site two days earlier than originally expected.
With that milestone reached, repair crews now have full access to the site to shore up support pillars and speed up repairs, Newsom said.
“This critical, ahead-of-schedule milestone helps us safely get Los Angeles’ traffic moving in December,” Gov. Newsom said. “I’m grateful for Caltrans District 7’s around-the-clock work to safely repair the 10 as quickly as possible. California is leveraging an all-of-government approach working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to get this done.”
The fire broke out early Saturday morning around 12:30 a.m. in a pallet yard located underneath the freeway near East 14th and Alameda streets. The fire raged for hours, burning through wooden pallets and crates of hand sanitizer that were stored there — possibly illegally.
The fire caused serious damage to the elevated freeway, burning dozens of support columns, and raising concerns that the entire freeway section would need to be demolished and rebuilt.
On Tuesday, officials announced a bit of good news.
“This will not be a demo. We will not need to demolish and replace the I-10. We will continue the kind of repairs you’re seeing being done behind me and continue a shoring plan to shore up this site,” Newsom said at a news conference.
Since the blaze was extinguished, crews began the process of removing the charred vehicles, equipment and other materials to allow for repairs to begin. Working 24 hours a day, Caltrans contractors cleared 264,000 cubic square feet of debris or, as the state describes it, enough to fill four Olympic-size swimming pools.
Environmental monitoring is taking place at the repair site and precautions are being taken to prevent any material runoff from this week’s storms, the Governor’s Office said in a news release.
“An early evaluation of the site identified no highly toxic chemicals in the aftermath of the fire,” the release reads.
Union crews will be working around the clock to repair the 450-foot span of the freeway, with hopeful estimates that it could reopen in three to five weeks.
Caltrans District 7 Director Gloria Roberts said the agency’s crews “won’t stop working until the 10 is safely repaired and traffic is moving.”
The 10 Freeway is a major artery for downtown Los Angeles with as many as 300,000 vehicles using it every day. Its closure has crippled traffic in and out of the city, doubling commute times for many.
Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass, who herself took the train to work Wednesday, is encouraging residents to take public transportation or work from home if possible.
The investigation into how the blaze started remains ongoing. On Monday, Gov. Newsom announced that the fire was being investigated as an act of arson, describing it as being set with “malice intent.”
The company that leased the space below the freeway was described by the governor as a “bad actor,” that the state was engaged in active litigation with, but stopped short of indicating if there was any connection between the legal dispute and the criminal investigation.
Newsom has declared a statewide emergency related to the fire and the subsequent closure and said the state would spare no expense to get the roadway up and running once more.