Like Building Bridges Underground

Photo by Mary O’KEEFE
Officials help open the Angeles Crest Highway after it was closed 18 months ago after damage from the Station Fire and heavy rains.


Once again this weekend the roar of motorcycle engines could be heard echoing through Angeles National Forest as the sight of colorful cyclists trail up and down the winding highway.

The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) opened the seven-mile stretch of Angeles Crest Highway (SR2) from La Cañada Flintridge to Wrightwood and State Route 138 on Friday at 10 a.m.

“We didn’t have much of anything, just one motorcycle accident,” said Deputy Steve Toley, Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s Station.

The opening of the ‘Crest on Friday saw a line of vehicles from two-wheels to four-wheels lined up to go through those long closed gates.

“I know many of you have waited with great anticipation of the opening of Angeles Crest [highway],” said Roy Fisher, Caltrans District 7 Deputy Director of Construction.

The highway was first closed down due to the Station Fire in the Angeles National Forest.

“The [Station] Fire destroyed several hundred signs, miles of guard rail and sections of pavement,” Fisher said.

More of the highway was closed after heavy rains of December 2009 and January 2010.

“[The heavy rains] washed away several large sections of highway, in some locations the gap in the roadway was 150 to 200 feet across, and 200 to 300 feet deep,” he said.

This made the roadway impassable and unsafe.

In some locations entire slopes had to be rebuilt, rockslides had to be cleared and crews had to drill 60 feet into hard bedrock to install 60 foot tall steel beams to support the highway, Fisher said.

“This is no way like filling potholes – more like building bridges underground,” he added.

Drivers may not easily recognize improvements however they include reinforced slopes, a large pink box that will help large debris and water go under the highway, asphalt burms and guardrails.

Representatives from the offices of Congressman David Dreier, California State Senator Carol Liu and Assemblymember Anthony Portantino were on hand.

La Cañada Flintridge Councilmember Don Voss and Pat Anderson of the Chamber of Commerce thanked Caltrans and the California Highway Patrol for their support. Both urged motorists to obey all the traffic laws and “no big rigs,” referring to the tragic big rig accident that occurred at Angeles Crest Highway and Foothill Boulevard on April 1, 2009.

A big rig had driven over the Angeles Crest Highway, losing its brakes and crashing through the Foothill Boulevard intersection killing a man and his daughter and injuring several others.

Members of Montrose Search and Rescue and Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s Station were also there as the gates opened on Friday. Both agencies patrol the Angeles National Forest and ’Crest area. California Highway Patrol officers are responsible for vehicles along the highway.

“We are all very pleased that the [Angeles Crest Highway] is open now,” said Lt. Steve Strull, of the Altadena CHP Station. “Enjoy the scenic drive and use the utmost caution when traveling along the ’Crest.”

He added for motorists to enjoy the highway but to be cautious and obey traffic laws.

“In 2007 and 2008, there were 164 motorcycle collisions and eight were fatalities, “Strull said. “[CHP] has worked with partner agencies to develop a task force [to patrol the area].”

CHP has received a traffic grant that will focus on motorcycle collisions. That grant will help in the ’Crest enforcement.

The damage to the stretch of Angeles Crest cost $32 million to repair, with a majority of the fee being reimbursed by the Federal Highway Administration.