Downtown LA’s I-10 Freeway to Open Tonight as Search for Arson Suspect Continues

I-10 fire
The arson suspect was described as a 6-foot tall man weighing 170 to 190
pounds with black hair. Credit: Cal Fire

The stretch of the Santa Monica (10) Freeway in downtown Los Angeles that’s been closed since a Nov. 11 arson fire will reopen in time for tomorrow morning’s commute, with some lanes opening Sunday night.

Standing on the still-closed freeway, Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass, Gov. Gavin Newsom, Sen. Alex Padilla and Vice President Kamala Harris made the announcement at a Sunday morning news conference, praising workers for coming in several days ahead of schedule and hailing the cooperation of government officials at all levels.

“This is a great day in our city, and I think it is a wonderful example of how and why we got this job done,” Bass said. “First and foremost, the workforce that worked 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The numbers of workers on the site here, who doubled and tripled as everyone came together, showing the unity from the White House to the governor, to our senator, all of us standing together to make sure that this got done.”

Padilla said Angelenos “don’t have to wait for Thursday to give thanks for the opening — before the Thanksgiving holiday — of the 1-10 Freeway, for folks who are working this week, folks who’ll be traveling for the Thanksgiving holiday, and to give thanks to all the workers who made this possible. We can’t thank them enough.”

California’s senior Democratic senator said that although officials don’t yet know the final price tag for the repairs, the entire cost will be covered by federal funds, “thanks to the bipartisan infrastructure law that was passed and signed a couple of years ago.”

Padilla estimated that the cost would be in the $3 million range, and Newsom later said it was “in the low millions.”

Newsom praised the workers and contracting company and said 10,000 hours of labor went into the effort to get the freeway open in eight days.

“It was a week or so ago that we were here, not knowing if we would be here at this moment announcing the reopening for six more months. We were talking about replacing this structure, we were talking about this historic fire that took out about roughly 100 columns — four or five particularly severely — we were talking about replacing a large portion of this freeway,” Newsom said.

“You can be assured of one thing: Safety first … it wasn’t just speed that we were after, we wanted to make sure this thing was safe,” the governor added.

Newsom said permanent fixes to the freeway would occur over several weeks or months and would require “episodic closures,” but those are not expected to significantly impact the daily commute. He added that the Alameda ramp would not open tomorrow, and Lawrence Street would remain closed between 10th and 14 streets.

In the aftermath of last weekend’s fire, after results from initial testing came back, Newsom had estimated that the freeway would reopen in three to five weeks, while expressing the hope that workers might beat that deadline.

State officials said Wednesday that contractors had removed all of the debris and hazardous materials from beneath the damaged freeway stretch. Caltrans officials said about 264,000 cubic feet of material was removed, enough to fill four Olympic-size swimming pools. More than two dozen burned vehicles were also removed from the area.

That work was completed two days ahead of schedule.

There are more than 250 people working at the jobsite on 12-hour shifts, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, officials said.

Harris called the project “extraordinary,” said it was the function of workers on the ground who “understood what closure of the 10 would mean to folks on a daily basis, and their commitment as public servants, as union members, to get this thing done. We can give the fancy speeches all day long, but we’re able to stand here and do this because they did this work on the ground.”

On Saturday, Cal Fire released photos and a description of a person of interest in connection with the fire they believe was intentionally set, igniting within the fenceline of a storage yard below the freeway on Nov. 11.

The suspect was described as a 6-foot tall man weighing 170 to 190 pounds with black hair. He appears to be between 30 and 35 years old, and his race is unknown. He possibly has a burn on his left leg. The man was photographed wearing a black hoodie, blue shorts, gray shoes, green scarf and a knee brace on his right knee. He was also carrying a dark-colored backpack.

Investigators urged anyone with information about the initial fire or the suspect to call their tip hotline at 800-468-4408.

Until the freeway reopens, additional traffic officers were in place Sunday to help motorists navigate major events including the last day of the L.A. Auto Show at the downtown Convention Center, the Lakers-Houston Rockets game at Arena, and the Rams game against the Seattle Seahawks at So-Fi Stadium in Inglewood.

Bass had earlier directed the Los Angeles City Department of Transportation to make Commuter Express and DASH buses free to encourage commuters to use public transportation.

The closed portion of Interstate 10 typically carries about 300,000 vehicles per day.

City News Service contributed to this article.