Idyllwild access roads to stay closed another month

HEMET, Calif. (KABC) -- The main access roads to Idyllwild and other nearby mountain communities have been blocked since last month's storms and may take more than a month before they reopen.

Heavy flooding washed away parts of highways 243 and 74, two of the main roads in and out of communities like Idyllwild and Pine Cove.

Caltrans crews are working to rebuild and reopen those roads. They're making progress, but say it could be four to five weeks before Highway 74 reopens. And Highway 243 could remain shut down even longer.

On on-site engineer describes the work as like a ballet of elephants - getting heavy equipment into place on a two-lane mountain highway that washed away in more than 65 different places.

In some places, the contractor is actually causing more rockslides just to get the dirt needed to make repairs to parts of the road that washed away.

They say there are some locations where they can't even get to the damaged road, until they make repairs to other parts of the highway first.

Caltrans says logistically, it's difficult and on a tight, winding highway, there's not much room to work already.

"It's kind of like trying to host the Oscars in a little theater," said Richard Rusnak with Caltrans. "It's limited space, it's tight space, everything is moving as efficiently as possible, but it's very challenging."

In the meantime, the town of Idyllwild is struggling with the two main roads from the west remaining closed.

For a town that depends on tourism, locals say it's devastating.

The detours to get there can add hours to the drive. One man said a trip that normally takes about 40 miles is now 130.

Another man said a 40-minute commute has turned into a four-hour round trip.

Caltrans is hoping to have highway 74 open on a restricted basis in the next four to five weeks. Restricted means it can only be used in the morning and late evening, and drivers will be escorted at speeds under 25 mph.

As for Highway 243, the damage is so extensive, there's no timeframe on reopening.
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