Northbound commuters heading home to the high desert should have an open drive on the 15 Freeway on Tuesday afternoon, though southbound motorist will have to wait another day for relief,
A day after a wind-driven fire destroyed the Ranchero Road bridge in the Cajon Pass, crews scrambled to clear out the collapsed structure and reopen the vital California-Nevada link.
Northbound traffic is expected to reopen by 6 p.m.
Construction crews spent the day using tractors and bulldozers to tear down what remained of the Ranchero Road overpass, even as it continued to burn.
The blaze, reported about 1:30 p.m. Monday, was sparked by workers cutting reinforced steel bars with torches, the San Bernardino County Fire Department said.
"As you can see … we have a lot of work to do to restore traffic," Ray Wolfe, director of the San Bernardino Associated Governments, said at a morning press conference.
"We did not know the Herculean efforts that fell before us. We were not able to get as far as we thought," he said.
Caltrans officials said they decided to clear the northbound lanes instead of the southbound side so high desert residents would have an easier drive home. It will take another 24 hours for the other side to be cleared, said Caltrans spokeswoman Michelle Profant.
The bridge project cost an estimated $59 million and was expected to be opened by the end of the year – months ahead of schedule. But the fire has delayed that, project officials said.
The work over the last six to eight weeks that consisted mostly of constructing a wood framework and placing rebar, is a complete loss, said Tim Watkins of the San Bernardino Associated Governments. Engineers are expected to review the scope of the damage Tuesday and Wednesday to determine if all of this year's work, including the support pillars, needs to be redone, Watkins said.