Los Angeles freeway is fully reopened after arson fire, just in time for Monday morning’s rush hour
LOS ANGELES — Closed for more than a week due to an arson, an elevated freeway in Los Angeles reopened ahead of the Monday morning commute, at least a day earlier than previously announced and weeks ahead of the original estimate.
“Welcome back, Los Angeles!” Mayor Karen Bass posted this late Sunday on X, formerly known as Twitter.
The Nov. 11 fire, fueled by flammable material stored under the roadway in violation of a company’s lease agreement, closed a mile-long stretch of Interstate 10 near downtown, snarling traffic as repair crews worked around the clock were the work. Officials had said last week that all lanes were expected to reopen Tuesday, but moved that to Monday after significant progress.
Governor Gavin Newsom said recent safety inspections showed it was safe to reopen Sunday evening and that the highway would be “fully operational” before Monday’s rush hour.
“It wasn’t just speed we were looking for. We wanted to make sure this thing was safe,” Newsom said at a news conference along with Vice President Kamala Harris, U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla and Bass.
Officials had initially said it would take about 250 workers between three and five weeks to strengthen the span after the fire burned about 100 support columns.
“This is a great day in our city,” Bass said Sunday. “I would like to thank everyone who worked 24 hours to make this effort possible.”
There will be periodic closures in the coming weeks or months as repairs continue, officials said. An estimated 300,000 vehicles per day use the highway, which runs from east to west through the heart of the metropolis and connects to other major highways.
Padilla estimated that the initial repairs, which are expected to be covered by federal funds, would cost $3 million.
State investigators repeatedly identified fire and safety hazards in a rented storage facility under an elevated freeway in Los Angeles before it caught fire, documents show.
The California Department of Transportation, or Caltrans, released the documents on Friday. Investigators said Saturday they are seeking help in locating a “person of interest” and released two photos in a “crime alert” on social media showing a man in his 30s with a brace on his right knee and apparent burns to his left leg.
The photos were released by Cal Fire and the State Fire Marshal, whose office is investigating the fire but did not say how he was identified.
Although investigators have not said how the fire started, it was fueled by pallets, cars, building materials, hand sanitizer and other items stored under the highway under a little-known program that is now under scrutiny. Newsom has said the state will reassess the practice of leasing land under roads to raise money for mass transit projects.
Apex Development Inc. has leased the land under I-10 since 2008. Although a term of the contract stated that the storage of flammable or hazardous materials there was not permitted, state inspectors have visited the site six times since the beginning of 2020 and found problematic conditions. for years.
“This is a filthy, unkept lease,” Inspector Daryl Myatt wrote in a 2022 report after a surprise inspection discovered solvents, oils, fuels and other items excluded by the agreement. “This area has been in use since the mid-1970s and looks like this.”
Owners of two of the businesses that sublet the property said they had also warned of fire hazards and other hazards associated with homeless people living under the highway. Newsom previously said that while subleasing could be legal if the company received approval from state and federal regulators, Apex did not.
In September, government officials filed a lawsuit against Apex, saying the company owes $78,000 in unpaid rent. A hearing is scheduled for next year.
The most recent on-site inspection, just over a month before the Nov. 11 fire, found “numerous lease violations,” but the documents released Friday provided no further details.
Caltrans had “informed Apex Development of the need to address violations, especially those that pose safety risks,” the agency said in a statement.
Mainak D’Attaray, a lawyer for Apex Development, said Wednesday that the company is not responsible for the fire, adding that the company has not had access to the property since October.
“Apex leased and improved the dilapidated yard and made significant capital investments during the period it owned the yard,” D’Attaray’s statement said. “Caltrans inspected the property periodically, at least once a year, and CalTrans was fully aware of the subtenants and their activities. Even the California State Fire Marshall inspected the property.”
D’Attaray did not respond to a request for comment on Saturday.
Izzy Gordon, a spokesperson for the governor, last week disagreed with D’Attaray’s statement that Apex is not to blame. Gordon said the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection – Cal Fire – believes the fire was caused by arson “in a fenced area that Apex was required to maintain while continuing to assert its rights under the lease.”
Brandon Richards, another spokesman for Newsom, reiterated the governor’s order for Caltrans to conduct a comprehensive review of all leased sites along the state’s highways. Richards did not address whether anyone at Caltrans would face disciplinary action.
No injuries were reported in the fire, but at least 16 homeless people living in an encampment there were taken to shelters.
Associated Press writer Sophia Tareen contributed from Chicago.