The entire length of state Route 243 between Banning and Mountain Center remained closed Friday except to residents and business owners in the Idyllwild area, and a 15-mile segment of state Route 74 east of Hemet was shut down completely, because of collapsed road surfaces stemming from storm activity.
“The 243 is only accessible to residents and businesses for public safety,” Caltrans District 8 spokeswoman Terri Kasinga told City News Service early Friday afternoon. “We’re discouraging winter sports on the mountain for the time being to keep people from using the limited infrastructure that’s available.”
The 243 sustained significant damage in four locations during the downpours and runoff Thursday, with the worst being near Lake Fulmor, about seven miles north of Idyllwild and Pine Cove. Kasinga said virtually the entire two-lane highway fell through at that spot, and sinkholes had developed at the other three places.
No injuries were reported.
Kasinga told CNS that, late Friday morning, Caltrans secured an $8 million contract with Burnsville, Minnesota-based Ames Construction Inc. under an emergency work order to make repairs to the 243. The contractor, which had already been doing work to restore roadway surfaces damaged during the 13,000- acre Cranston Fire near Mountain Center in August, was also hired at a cost of $2.5 million to make repairs to Highway 74.
“We had to get moving on this,” Kasinga said. “It might all end up costing more. It probably will.”
The worst damage on the 74 occurred at the Strawberry Creek crossing, about three miles west of Mountain Center, where Kasinga said a “whole section of road collapsed.”
She said portions of the highway had fragmented and washed out in other spots, too.
The California Highway Patrol closed the 74 between Valle Vista and Lake Hemet. Commuters coming from the west or south, attempting to reach the 243 junction at Mountain Center, or continue on to Palm Springs, were advised to use Sage Road from Hemet, or state Route 79 from Temecula, then connect to state Route 371 eastbound, which links to the open half of Highway 74 in Anza.
According to Kasinga, none of the residential pockets paralleling the 243 between Idyllwild and Banning have been entirely isolated or rendered inaccessible because of damage to the mountain highway, which courses through the San Bernardino National Forest.
She said a paved county road remains open to property owners, enabling them to detour around the worst highway damage near Lake Fulmor. At the other locations, one-way traffic control is in effect on the 243because only one lane is usable.
“That’s why we have to minimize the number of vehicles going up there,” Kasinga said. “If we lose that county road, some people will be isolated.”
Kasinga said driving conditions are “really hairy” on both the 74 and 243 — even where surfaces haven’t been totally compromised.
More information about the closures is available at http://www.dot.ca.gov/d8/index.html .