The seven-mile dirt road to Mt. Lukens that starts at the fire station on Angeles Crest Highway will be closed to all traffic, including hikers and bikers, from Oct. 1 to 12, to restore what I have previously called in this paper a potentially lethal state of disrepair. In one spot, a portion of the road alongside an almost vertical 20-foot drop has been hollowed out by erosion and could give way at any time.
Angeles National Forest crews have been assigned to restore that portion of the road so it is safe for the huge vehicles that now routinely service the antennae at the top of the mountain that provide communications for emergency services, hospitals and cellphones throughout Southern California.
They will go on to assess other problems, such as the deep ruts and drainage blockages that have made travel hazardous on this vital lifeline.
A few weeks ago, after commentaries with photographs documenting the damages appeared in the Valley Sun, what the forest service called a temporary fix was made on segments where ruts were up to 3 feet deep and 3 feet across. Several were so large they had become impassable for some large vehicles. The aim now, officials say, is to bring the whole road up to “high-clearance vehicle standards.”
The fix filled in the ruts with gravel and is working quite well, except that the most vulnerable parts are already showing the marks of the maintenance trucks this hitherto quiet by-way was never designed to handle. Since the antennae were built, the road is routinely crunched by trucks carrying anything from water and steep pipes to earth-moving vehicles and large transformers.
Crews are faced with a road through territory bearing the marks of the 2009 Station fire that rises from around 2,500 feet to 5,000 feet, with gradients up to 15% on the front slope of the San Gabriel Mountains that gets the full brunt of pounding winter rain. Two years ago another temporary fix did not survive the storms of even one severe winter. Since then, more forest fires have eroded large areas, seriously increasing the risk of mudslides.
Ricardo Lopez, the engineer in charge of road maintenance throughout the forest, said this week the difficulties are compounded by other pressing priorities. Until recently, road crews, instead of maintaining the 730 miles of forest roads, were fully engaged in picking up trash that has increased so much that 160 tons of it, ranging from plastic bottles and diapers to furniture and syringes, is picked up every year in the San Gabriel Canyon alone.