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Freeways Damaged Despite Reinforcements; Commuters Vexed With PM-California Quake, Bjt

January 18, 1994

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ All eight freeways damaged by the earthquake had been reinforced with steel cables after a deadly 1971 quake in Southern California.

More sophisticated reinforcements were ordered for two of the failed freeways after the San Francisco quake in 1989. But on the list of 900 projects, they weren’t given the highest priority.

Transportation officials haven’t determined the exact causes of the freeway failures.

″The serious question that we have to ask now is if we learned those lessons from the past,″ said Bill Iwan, a professor of engineering at the California Institute of Technology and chairman of the state Seismic Safety Commission.

The broken freeways which will make it difficult to get around for months and maybe years in car-dependent Southern California.

″You’re talking about millions and millions of vehicles and travelers that will be impacted,″ said Jim Drago, a state Transportation Department spokesman.

The heavily traveled Santa Monica Freeway section of Interstate 10 lost three overpasses in Monday’s quake. The freeway links downtown Los Angeles with beach communities.

Aftershocks also collapsed the Route 14 interchange onto Interstate 5, the quickest route between Northern and Southern California, and a two-mile stretch of State Route 118 was shut by damage in the San Fernando Valley, where the quake was centered.

The San Diego Freeway section of Interstate 405 was closed because of buckled roadway. Quake damage also shut down Route 126, which runs from I-5 to beach communities northwest of Los Angeles, and parts of Interstates 105 and 210.

Improvements such as steel cables on bridges were incorporated in all the freeways damaged Monday, said Steve Saville, another Transportation Department spokesman. These improvements were required after the 1971 Sylmar quake, which was centered just eight miles away from Monday’s quake and killed 65 people.

After the 1989 quake in the San Francisco Bay area, the state undertook a $1 billion program to reinforce bridge supports.

But each of these projects demanded an individual approach. Some sections of road required hinges allowing slight shifting; others needed shock- absorbing buffers or steel rods wrapped around their columns. Only about a third have been completed.

The state was planning to seek bids next month for performing that work on the Santa Monica Freeway. The Route 14 interchange also was on the list, but other areas were considered higher risk and were given higher priority, Saville said.

Architects were surveying all the quake-damaged freeways for repairs Monday afternoon, Mayor Richard Riordan said.

There were few mass-transit options. The 4.4-mile, 2-year-old downtown subway was closed for inspections, street cars weren’t running and some commuter train lines had track damage.

Melissa Edwards said her usual half-hour freeway commute to work turned into a three-hour ordeal on secondary roads Monday.

″It’s unbelievable, the things I’ve gone through,″ she said by telephone on the road. ″Unbelievable detours because of fires, roads just completely torn up. ... People are driving crazy, cutting people off.″