Caltrans to Announce Expanded Travel on Damaged Mountain Highways

State officials are slated Tuesday to announce the start of day and night guided access along state Route 74 through the San Bernardino National Forest, as well as provide updates on progress repairing that highway and state Route 243 between Idyllwild and Banning.

Staff from Caltrans District 8 will join Riverside County transportation officials and engineers from Burnsville, Minnesota-based Ames Construction Inc. to share details regarding the status of the corridors heading into Labor Day Weekend.

The meeting is slated from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Idyllwild School, 26700 Highway 243.

Officials are expected to confirm that Highway 74 between Hemet and Mountain Center will, beginning Friday night, be available to motorists 24 hours a day, seven days a week, under escort by road crew vehicles. However, unexpected rain or wind events could result in limited hours of operation going back into effect, according to Caltrans.

The 15-mile segment was shut down on the night of Feb. 14 after torrential rains caused the two-lane artery to collapse in several places.

Similarly, that same night, most of Route 243 was closed to everything except residential traffic between Mountain Center and Idyllwild, while the entire highway was closed from Idyllwild to Banning after portions washed out, and an entire section just above Lake Fulmor gave way.

Beginning in mid-March, sufficient space was repaired on the 74 to permit traffic on the highway, traveling under escort and at a maximum 25 mph, during a few hours each morning and night. The hours of operation were expanded in May and again in June, though pilot vehicles continue to guide motorists along the damaged half of the route.

Between Mountain Center and Lake Fulmor, all of Highway 243 is available to commuters, day or night. However, the northern half of the mountain highway remains largely inaccessible due to the ongoing reconstruction work, according to officials.

Caltrans counted more than three dozen points along the 243 that required repairs, while nearly 60 spots on Highway 74 needed attention, the worst being the Strawberry Creek crossing three miles west of Mountain Center, where the roadway caved in and disappeared.

The emergency repair projects are expected to cost the state about $30 million by the time they’re finished.

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