A key stretch of one of Southern California's most erosion-prone mountain roads, closed since January due to post-fire storm damage, is expected to stay closed until mid-summer and maybe longer.
The Angeles Crest (2) Highway from La Canada Flintridge to Mount Wilson Road "will remain closed to the public due to severe damage resulting from heavy rains," Patrick Chandler of Caltrans said.
The affected stretch traverses a section of the Angeles National Forest that was burned in the August-September Station Fire, the largest in Los Angeles County history.
The Station Fire did not reach the highest, most vulnerable section of the Angeles Crest, between Islip Saddle and Vincent Gap. That section is closed every winter due to snow, ice, rockfall and avalanche – and it is now open with access from the northeast via state Route 138 and Wrightwood, according to Caltrans.
Several months after the Station Fire and closer to La Canada Flintridge, heavy rains during mid-January caused several landslides and road washouts along the winding Angeles Crest Highway.
Portions of the asphalt along with fill under the road washed away leaving large gaps in the roadway. A Caltrans damage assessment team determined the most significant road washouts ranged between 50 to 110 feet along the highway and about 200 feet below it at some locations, making the highway unsafe and impassable, Caltrans officials said.
Repair crews are trying slope stabilization by compacting loose dirt and rock, reinstalling drainage culverts below the highway, and reconstructing the roadway, according to Caltrans.
The Angeles Forest (N3) Highway, Big Tujunga Canyon Road and Upper Big Tujunga Canyon Road, which all intersect the Angeles Crest (2) Highway, are open to the public – but delays should be expected on these roads due to other erosion-related repairs and construction, according to Caltrans.
In addition, the Angeles Forest Highway is gated at its junction with the Angeles Crest Highway, due to the Caltrans closure of the Angeles Crest in that area, Caltrans said.
Burns Pacific Construction Inc. of Thousand Oaks is the contractor on the Angeles Crest rebuild, which Caltrans described as an "emergency project."
Road building and road maintenance in the erosive, fire-prone San Gabriel Mountains have always posed a stiff challenge to engineers. Some paved roads in the mountains that washed out decades ago have never been rebuilt.
On the East Fork of the San Gabriel River, there is a "Bridge to Nowhere" south of the Angeles Crest Highway and east of San Gabriel Canyon (39) Road.
San Gabriel Canyon (39) Road north of Azusa also washed out decades ago and has never been restored. Caltrans has separate plans to repair the most severely damaged section, which could reopen access to the Angeles Crest at that location for the first time since 1978.
More than a century ago, one of the primary justifications for building roads in the San Gabriel Mountains was to provide better access for firefighters during annual fire seasons.
The increased access also led to more human fire starts in the wilderness.
Investigators believe the Station Fire, which burned 250 square miles of national forest, was started by an arsonist or arsonists, but no arrests have been made.
Two Los Angeles County firefighters, whose truck went off a mountain road, died during the fire.