Carmageddon II: For traffic control center, it's time to shine
As the sun went down Friday, the lights stayed on at the city's Automated Traffic Surveillance and Control Center.
This is one of the central headquarters for Carmageddon II, where a handful of engineers will work 53 straight hours to ensure that all goes well with the temporary closure of a portion of the 405 Freeway -- the nation's busiest.
The city of Los Angeles has about 4,500 traffic signals and the ATSAC center downtown controls about 4,400 of them, according to Edward Yu, the center’s supervisor. The signals, along with about 400 cameras and about 7,000 miles of public streets, are all monitored by three or four engineers at a time, Yu said.
This weekend the center will be staffed 24/7. With a 10-mile section of the 405 closed until Monday morning, the potential for traffic problems increases.
The freeway was closed Friday night to begin demolition of the northern half of the Mulholland Drive bridge as part of a $1-billion project that includes adding a carpool lane to the freeway below.
Behind the scenes, a handful of engineers are scanning monitors for real-time traffic jams and doing their best to alleviate any slowdowns by manually adjusting traffic signals when necessary.
“We try to stay low key a lot of the time, but we have an effect on people’s lives every day,” Yu said. “Carmageddon II is an opportunity for us to really show what we can do.”
The ATSAC center, which was originally developed by the Department of Transportation for the 1984 Olympics, looks a bit like something out of a Star Trek movie with its panel of color-coded screens and large monitors showing live feeds from traffic cams.
If an engineer spots red flashes on a map, a sign congestion is occurring, and a call may go out to one of the nearly 400 traffic officers on duty throughout the city this weekend. As many as half the officers will be stationed near the closure area, said Greg Savelli, chief of parking enforcement and traffic control for the Deptartment of Transportation.
Those officers will be deployed to specific intersections to keep traffic flowing and direct cars through detour routes, Savelli said. Meanwhile the ATSAC center can extend the green time of certain traffic signals to clear backups of vehicles exiting the freeway faster.
During a typical weekend, Savelli said only about 100 officers would patrol the streets. Like others, the chief has been asking motorists to avoid the closure area.
“We’ll get through it, either way,” he said. “We’re just saying it’s going to be easier for everybody if they avoid the area.
“It’s something that we all look forward to not having to worry about again.”
-- Matt Stevens
Photo: Afternoon traffic rushes by as equipment and materials are positioned for the 405 Freeway closure Friday. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times