So the much-feared Carmageddon never materialized in Los Angeles last weekend, huh? I can tell them why: They had the location wrong by about 2400 miles.
You know what Carmageddon was, don’t you? The 405 freeway was closing for the weekend for maintenance and the LA powers that be expected massive traffic jams—more massive than LA’s legendary traffic jams already are. So, they scared the bejesus out of everyone and things went well. Not with a bang, but a whimper.
The 405 even opened well ahead of its schedule Monday morning opening.
As I said, they had the location off by 2400 miles. Carmageddon happened, all right. It happened right down the highway from me at Tern Lake.
|They never realized Carmageddon wouldn't be in LA, but right here at sleepy Tern Lake.|
This is how the perfect storm of conditions collided over a peaceful, shallow little lake where the terns and ducks and gulls are raising their young.
When you leave Anchorage and head south, you have one choice of route—the Seward Highway. About ninety miles south, you reach a triangular-shaped junction where the Sterling Highway meets the Seward Highway.
|Junction coming up. Straight ahead to Seward; right to the southern Peninsula.|
At the top end of this junction, there’s no problem. Traffic heading for Moose Pass and Seward continues straight down the hill on the Seward Highway. Traffic heading for Cooper Landing, Kenai, and Homer veers off to the right on a one-lane road to the Sterling Highway. No stops, no merges, no nothing. And certainly no traffic lights. Just keep cruising’.
|See? Seward straight, Home right.|
Traffic going back to Anchorage, however, drives the Sterling Highway along the shore of Tern Lake and comes to a stop sign at the Seward Highway. Just a stop sign. Look left for traffic coming down the hill from Anchorage, right for coming from Seward, then make a left turn and you’re on your way to Anchorage with no traffic control until you reach the city.
|The two white vehicles at the right are waiting to make a left turn and follow the black truck up the hill towards Anchorage. The white SUV in the center in coming from Anchorage, heading towards Seward.|
Most of the time, it works just fine and the lower part of the junction is quiet and almost sleepy.
|Wait for traffic, make a left, head for Anchorage.|
Then comes that perfect storm I mentioned before.
Imagine this: a weekend; absolutely spectacular weather; low tides for clam digging; the fabulous Kenai River and Kailof River dipnet fisheries were open; and, a more than a quarter million salmon leaving Cook Inlet and swimming en masse up the Kenai River—right into the waiting nets of all the folks standing waist deep in cold water holding onto fifteen foot long poles with a huge net strung on a hoop at the end of that pole.
They say you couldn’t miss. They report multiple catches in one net. They claim one woman caught five red salmon at one time.
Add the final ingredient: all those people heading home. All those people driving up the Sterling Highway on the narrow two lane highway through Cooper Landing and reaching the junction with the Seward Highway. Each vehicle had to stop, look left and right, wait for all the traffic leaving Seward after a weekend of touring, hiking, fishing for silver salmon, halibut, and rockfish, plus all the traffic coming down the hill and heading to Moose Pass and Seward.
Add in all the delivery trucks, the fuel haulers, the cruise boat busses, the normal everyday traffic of back and forth, the motorhomes and campers and fifth wheel trailers, trucks pulling boats, the drive-by tourists, the mountain bikers and hikers heading home after communing with mountains and mosquitoes.
Carmageddon at Tern Lake is what happens. Miles and miles of vehicles backed up waiting to make that one-lane left turn onto the Seward Highway. All the way back ten miles to Cooper Landing, some swear. For four days it was like that.
Then, Sunday, the State Troopers came to the rescue. In bright yellow safety vests, the troopers directed traffic, allowing those left turns more frequently than usual.
Carmageddon died Sunday afternoon, thanks to the troopers. ‘Bout the same time the 405 opened ahead of time in LA.