This blog explores the history of Phoenix, Arizona and a little bit of Los Angeles and San Francisco, California

Why the LA River creates such a problem for Los Angeles freeways



When I mention the LA River, people usually say "Huh? Los Angeles has a river?" Or they say that they've seen the river in movies, but that's it. Most people have no idea where the river is, or why it creates such a problem with Los Angeles freeways.

If you want to, you can see the LA River using Google Satellite view. Actually, it's just a concrete channel, and has been for decades. It's more of a wash than a river, because Los Angeles is a desert city, where rivers and creeks only flow after a heavy rain. And the city would be flooded if the water was channeled away, which was completed long before anyone who is reading this post was ever born.

But here is where it creates a problem for the freeways - bridges. Some of the most congested freeways in Los Angles cross over the river on a bridges that were built in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. And those bridges are in exactly the same place. That's why the freeway goes from eight lanes to two so suddenly - you're crossing over the river! So if you want to know where the river is without looking at a map, look for what I call "pinch points" - which is where the freeway narrows for no apparent reason. One of the most obvious is over by the LA Zoo (pictured above).

The solution, of course, is to widen the bridges, which Caltrans will do. Of course, it would mean shutting down some of the most crowded freeways in California (even if they only do it in a weekend, which is possible), and doing some very expensive construction. Of course, they're doing it because of the LA River, that even many people who grew up in Los Angeles know nothing about, so expect a "conspiracy theory" to be posted on social media about how Caltrans is wasting money, shutting down freeways for no apparent reason.

In the meantime, every time you get close to the river on the freeway in Los Angeles, expect traffic to slow down and jam as it moves into the few available lanes. And it's all because of a river that doesn't seem to exist, the LA River!


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