Like many San Fernando Valley residents, Gerald Silver is making plans for the summer, plotting out weekends for himself and his wife, Myrna.
And the Silvers have a very specific itinerary for July 15-18.
"We'll be landlocked and isolated," said Silver, 78, of Encino. "We're going to Ralphs early, stocking up and not leaving the house for two days."
During that third weekend in July, a 10-mile stretch of the San Diego (405) Freeway will be closed, including the section through the Sepulveda Pass, for 53 hours while construction crews dismantle the Mulholland Drive overpass. It is part of a massive freeway widening project to add a car-pool lane on the 405 between the Santa Monica (10) and Ventura (101) freeways.
Hoping to prevent the most dire of traffic predictions, transportation officials from the city, county, state and regional agencies have launched a media campaign to steer drivers away from anticipated trouble spots.
Today, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa will hold a news conference at the Skirball Cultural Center with officials from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro), the California Department of Transportation, California Highway Patrol, and other agencies to discuss preparations for the weekend-long closure.
Over the weekend, Metro officials announced that free subway rides will be offered on the Red Line linking the Valley to Los Angeles during the closure.
Metro also plans to beef up Orange Line service in theValley and add extra buses on major east-west streets, like Ventura, Santa Monica and Sunset boulevards. While standard fares will be charged on buses, they will include a connection to the free Red Line trains for access across the mountains that separate the San Fernando Valley from Hollywood and the rest of L.A.
Shutting down the busiest north-south freeway connection in L.A. over a summer weekend is expected to create traffic headaches in the Valley and the basin. It is estimated that on a typical weekend, some 500,000 vehicles travel the 405 between the Valley and the Westside.
And while many motorists are likely to follow the Silvers' example by staying home, others will seek alternate routes on surface streets - such as Coldwater Canyon, Laurel Canyon and Sepulveda Boulevard - that are ill-equipped to handle a major influx of traffic.
"Sepulveda will be slammed," predicted Laurie Kelson, who chairs the Transportation Committee of the Encino Neighborhood Council. "It will not be moveable."
From midnight July 15 through 5 a.m. July 18, the northbound 405 between the 10 and 101 freeways will be closed, as will southbound lanes from the 101 to Getty Center Drive.
Metro is recommending that motorists use alternate interstate freeways and highways, such as the 5, 23, 110, 134 and 710.
And other than advising that Sepulveda Boulevard be used for local access only, Metro officials aren't suggesting what surface streets motorists should consider.
"We want to avoid talking about those canyon roads," says Doug Failing, executive director of highway programs for Metro. "They are going to get so overloaded if people think they can take them, we want to encourage them not to."
Members of neighborhood councils are already bracing for the shutdown, which they said will send motorists creeping on local streets in search of a detour. Anticipating the headaches, some have even questioned the value of the car-pool lane.
Kelson has been going to Metro-hosted hearings for three years.
"Is this necessary, does an extra traffic lane even help?" says Kelson, who'd prefer the money went toward building light rail or another mass transit project.
Ron Macias, community relations officer at Metro, who has been contacting local groups about the closure, said he's heard from all sides on the widening project.
"There certainly are a range of reactions (to the 405 project)," Macias said.
The audience at a Tarzana Property Owners Association forum last week murmured its unhappiness when informed of the 405 shutdown by county Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who said the weekend closure will work if "everyone does their part."
Officials note that the city has coped successfully with previous freeway closures. Motorists found alternate routes when the 10 Freeway was shut for three months following the Northridge Earthquake in 1994, and buses helped ease traffic during the 1984 Olympics.
Still, Metro has launched a public relations campaign dubbed "Countdown to Closure" along with a website (metro.net/projects/I-405) with regular updates.
Freeways signs will flash electronic, Amber Alert-like messages warning motorists of the changes. The Department of Transportation and California Highway Patrol will soon announce where it plans to station officers to help with traffic flow.
That data will be fed to numerous agencies, including the Los Angeles Fire Department and Los Angeles Police Department.
The public relations effort is meant to "scare the heck out of everyone," according to Yaroslavsky.
Officials predict those who find themselves in the streets surrounding the 405 Freeway region on July 15-18 will be motorists who accidentally ended up in the area, or forgot about the closure.
Still, Silver believes there's a chance that drivers will be so scared to venture out that traffic around the Valley roads will be unusually light.
"Maybe the streets will be clear," he says, not sounding very convinced of that scenario.