Just before Caltrans and the California Highway Patrol shut down State Route 243 they took a photograph showing the side of the road suspended without earth underneath it, shortly after the earth gave way taking an entire section of road, soil, trees and guardrail right along with it.
“Literally the roads were gone, gone big chunks of them and all three ways down from the hill were no option for anyone,” says James Meyer from Palm Springs.
Paul Zapala and Meyer were expecting to stay one night in their cabin in the mountains.
“When we tried to leave in the morning we found out from the townspeople when we went to get gas that all three roads down the mountain were closed … and was just shocked because we had just driven that road cause we had just driven that road less than 24 hours earlier,” says Zapala.
Caltrans engineers are still assessing the roads, they say that alone will take days because the roads up the hill are so unstable and unpredictable, they’re still finding major damage. Another section of the 243 at post mile 17 is completely gone and a new sinkhole opened up on Highway 74.
Officer Darren Meyers, public information officer with CHP says the Cranston Fire last summer left the mountains with no vegetation that’s why all roads up and down the mountain took a heavy hit, “A tremendous amount of water came down of the mountains it overflowed the creeks and streams, all that water, the rocks and debris from the Cranston fires ended up right here at this bridge.”
He says there’s usually three ways up and down the mountain, now there’s only one option, “You can use the 74 the road that we’re standing on now which is not an option the 243 which is on the banning side that’s also washed out … the only option now is that Palm Desert, Anza side.”
But Meyer says they’re are asking just residents and business owners use the only road left, “The road won’t handle a large amount of volume of traffic, it certainly won’t handle tourist weekend so we discourage any tourist or snow play folks from coming up, let Caltrans have time to do the repairs, get the roads the way they’re safe and then we’ll open everything back up for everybody.”
Caltrans District 8 spokesperson Terri Kasinga says they approved over $14 million in emergency contracts to assess and repair roads damaged by the storm including Highways 74, 111, and State Route 243. She says this would not have been possible without gas tax monies.