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How you keep traffic moving through a complex highway project

Brandon Schissel, Maintenance of Traffic Lead for the I-405 Sepulveda Pass Improvements Project, calculates how to maintain traffic flow while supporting an aggressive construction schedule, a considerable challenge when working on one of the nation’s busiest highways.

    Brandon
    “I don’t think closures are easy anywhere."

If Schissel employs closures too aggressively, for example, commuters, residents and businesses are inconvenienced. If he fails to be aggressive, work lags and a three-year-long project can quickly become a much longer project.

Complicating Schissel’s plans are restrictions on when he can close a freeway. Although the contractor, Kiewit Pacific Co., would prefer to work during the day, working then would further snarl I-405 traffic.

Schissel’s planning routinely begins weeks before commuters see orange cones and flashing arrows closing a freeway lane or on-ramp.

“We have to submit final notice of a full-freeway closure to Caltrans 25 days before we begin the closure,” Schissel explains. Then, when the project knows the final dates for closures, it sends them to Caltrans for approval.” “For example, when we closed the freeway for restriping (in February and March), we gave Caltrans the notification in December.

This means Schissel asks for Caltrans approval on Monday for closures on the following Friday through Sunday. The I-405 team also notifies the City of Los Angeles if a city street must be closed as part of a ramp closure, but that has been rare.

“The biggest misunderstanding (from the public) is the times we can have a closure,” says Schissel, who has lived in Southern California for 10 months. “We can’t close the freeway until night. During the day we maintain existing lanes.”

Schissel and the construction crews must also follow a Caltrans ratio that regulates the size of a closure and when that closure must be reopened.

“Typically, we can work from 10pm to 6am for a single-lane closure; 11pm to 5am for two lanes; midnight to 5am for a full-freeway closure,” Schissel says. He estimates the project has had 15 full-freeway closures.

In fact, Caltrans allows full-freeway closures to support only a few major tasks:

  • Restriping
  • Demolishing a bridge
  • Setting supports or girders on a bridge
  • Installing traffic ramp loops (devices which count the number of cars using a ramp)

For drivers who will travel the I-405 during a lane closure, he offers a tip. “Stay in the center lanes. We seldom close the center lanes (lanes two and three), unless we have a full-freeway closure.”

Schissel has worked for Kiewit Pacific Co. for five years, since graduating from the University of Iowa with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. His initial career goal was to build roller coasters, although he has been working in traffic planning for a while. He recently completed an 18-month assignment maintaining traffic flow on the Interstate 15 during construction between Barstow and Baker.

Schissel admits that the complexity of the I-405 dwarfs his work on Interstate 15.

“It’s a lot more detailed than people think,” he adds. “The I-405 is so busy and crosses so many jurisdictions,” Schissel says with a shake of his head. “The freeway is so massive.”

Schissel’s work is just beginning. Looking ahead, he believes the number of ramp, lane, city street and full-freeway closures will total approximately 1,500 before the widening project is complete.

What does he say when his family asks him what work he performs on the I-405 project? “I explain we’re widening the freeway, replacing the overcrossings. Only one of my family has been to Los Angeles, so they don’t understand the traffic out here.”

Ned Racine


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