The 405 Freeway was reopened ahead of schedule on Sunday night.
Escorted by the California Highway Patrol, a slow-moving, "little parade" of contractors and Caltrans vehicles was the first onto the freeway at 9:15 p.m. and was trailed by eager drivers, said Kasey Shuda, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
"All the agencies are really excited that our coordinated efforts paid off and that Los Angeles residents stayed local in their communities," she said.
Starting at the I-10 connector then moving north to the 101 freeway, the northbound lanes and off-ramps were to reopen first by 8:45 p.m. The on-ramps opened afterward. The same process will be repeated on the south side of the freeway, according to Metro.
The 405 freeway closure between Friday night and Sunday evening included demolishing the northern half of the Mulholland bridge and erecting a new half-bridge and mating it to the half that was rebuilt last year during Carmageddon I.
The work—which involved tearing down 38,000 pounds of iron and steel and removing more than 360,000 pounds of metal jackets encasing the bridge's four support columns—was the linchpin in the $1 billion Sepulveda Pass Improvements Project to rebuild the 50-year-old bridge between the 10 and 101 freeways. The project also includes a carpool lane between the two freeways. The project is expected to reach substantial completion by late 2013.
Demolition was complete by 5 p.m. Sunday, when Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa convened a news conference to sum up the day's work. At that time, there was still clean-up work to be done, but he dubbed the project a "success" and called motorists who stayed off the freeway "the real stars."
That he changed the press briefing from its originally scheduled time of 10 p.m. excited Angelenos who hoped he might announce an early reopening of the freeway.
Word of the early reopening came later in the evening.
"We're eight hours earlier than expected," said Lauren Wonder, a Caltrans spokeswoman. "This was very complicated work that was done very efficiently, so we were able to get the lanes open."
There was 30 percent more demolition work to be done this year than last year—when the freeway reopened 17 hours ahead of schedule—and there was no bonus for the contractor if the freeway opened early—just a penalty for opening late.
If the freeway did not reopen by 5 a.m. Monday, the contractor Kiewit was to be fined heavy penalties—a $6,000 fine per lane for every 10 minutes past the deadline the lane is closed and a $60,000 per minute fine if all lanes stay closed past 53 hours, according to Dave Sotero, Metro spokesman.
Caltrans took advantage of the freeway's full closure to do maintenance chores, including repairing deteriorating asphalt next to the center medians, trimming trees and cleaning drains. This saved about $200,000 in taxpayer money, a Caltrans official said.
— City News Service and Patch Local Editor Jared Morgan contributed to this report.