The portion of Interstate10 in downtown Los Angeles severely damaged by fire over the weekend will undergo repairs after California Dept. of Transportation (Caltrans) engineers determined the elevated highway did not need replacement. 

“This will not be a demo,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom said during a press conference at the site on Tuesday morning. “We will not need to demolish and replace the I-10, so we will continue the kind of repairs you see being done and continue a shoring plan.” 

The span was damaged during a fire on Nov. 11 and, after the area was cleared and tested for hazardous materials, shoring was put in place to support the highway. According to Caltrans, more than 300,000 vehicles travel over the affected section of the highway daily.

With shoring of the bridge continuing, Caltrans expects to reopen the freeway to traffic on four of the five lanes in three to five weeks. Repair work will continue after that point, involving intermittent nighttime closures, officials said. A timeline for the full repair work has not been determined. 

Engineers analyzed core samples of the damaged columns and bridge deck in order to make the decision to surgically repair the elevated freeway instead of replacing it. Caltrans continues to conduct safety testing and evaluation of the structure.

Crews will continue to remove debris from the storage yard under the freeway, and expect to have the site cleared out by Friday. Approximately 400 ft of the elevated highway was affected by the blaze and 100 columns were damaged, with 10 of those severely impacted. Portions of the bridge deck suffered damage as well.

While an evaluation of the site identified no highly toxic chemicals in the aftermath of the fire, on-site environmental monitoring has been put in place place to fortify drains and limit run-off from the affected area.

With the federal government already promising emergency funding for the repairs, California has entered two contracts—with Security Paving and Griffith Company—for debris removal and shoring.

Newsom says the state is using contract templates from 1994 Northridge earthquake projects to develop long-term contracts for I-10 with heavy incentives to speed the work. Interim contracts are already in place although a Caltrans spokesperson said it hasn’t yet been determined how many long-term contracts will be needed. 

“We are working on the details of that contract in real time,” Newsom says. “We are taking lessons learned from the Northridge quake as it relates to incentives in contracts.”

Fire Investigation and Response

The blaze began in the early hours of Nov. 11 in a storage yard beneath the freeway containing wood pallets, vehicles and even containers of hand sanitizer. The fire quickly spread to a second yard and eventually consumed eight acres. 

An investigation by California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) concluded that the fire was set intentionally and it is being treated as arson. The investigation is ongoing, officials said.

At the time of the fire, the area under the freeway was being leased by Caltrans to Apex Development, Inc., of Calabasas, Calif. According to Newsom, the site had been unlawfully subleased by the firm to at least five other entities.

The company’s lease on the property is expired, and California officials initiated legal action against the firm in September. Newsom said the state is now working to evict Apex Development from all five leases it holds on other freeway right-of-way sites.

A review of all of Caltrans’ leases involving right-of-way properties as well as the procedures and funding used inspect them has begun, Newsom said. Caltrans’ Airspace and Telecommunications Licensing program is responsible for leasing and managing locations held for a transportation purpose that can safely accommodate a secondary use.