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Hwy 74 closure near Hemet causes frustration

February 12, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
The Ortega Highway has been closed from Route 243 south of Idyllwild to Route 79 in Hemet due to recent storms, and it's created huge hassles for commuters.It's not common that an entire section of a highway washes away, but that's exactly what happened to Highway 74 last weekend.

A 20-by-30 foot section of the road simply collapsed when a storm sent a wall of water, rocks and mud down the hill.

"The water flowed down the canyon and filled up like a big lake on the opposite side of the highway. It was just sitting there, and it slowly eroded and finally washed out the highway," described Capt. Josh Richardson of the U.S. Forest Service.

The debris flow is a direct result of the Cottonwood fire, which burned thousands of acres near Hemet last August.

For the past week, 3,500 residents of the communities of Idyllwild and Pine Cove have been forced to find other ways to get down the mountain.

"Grocery shopping and sometimes medical responses, they have to use alternate routes and whatnot. So, it's an inconvenience," said Hemet resident Steve Grewe. "It adds on another hour or two hours depending on where you're going."

Currently, Caltrans workers are digging out the existing culvert which normally keeps Highway 74 from flooding. It was buried under all sorts of mud and debris from the recent storms. Caltrans has also built a new drain that will serve as a backup for the next big storm. It's also going to be an animal crossing.

A local Chevron station in Hemet has definitely been hurt by the week-long closure with business down by 30 percent.

"We get a lot of customers that come down from the hill. They come down in the morning, fill up, get food for breakfast, and you can definitely tell that the traffic flow is down," said Wendell Homer, the station's manager.

However, the good news is that crews are hoping to have the road fixed and back open by Saturday.


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