Angeles Crest set to reopen Friday

California transportation officials say they will open a long-closed section of the Angeles Crest Highway that runs through territory deeply scarred by the Station fire and subsequent rains.

After nearly 17 months of complex reconstruction work, officials will mark the occasion at an event Friday morning before opening the 9-mile segment that stretches above La Cañada Flintridge and connects to Angeles Forest Highway.

The winding mountain highway was closed during the Station fire in August 2009 and reopened later that year, only to close again in January 2010 due to six pavement washouts and other erosion damage caused by post-fire rainstorms.

The California Department of Transportation had planned to reopen the roadway on Jan. 1, 2011, but December storms pummeled the area with more than 12 inches of rainfall in less than a week, overwhelming a drainage culvert 2.5 miles east of La Cañada and triggering a seventh roadway collapse.

“A huge fire and heavy rains were the perfect storm to cause a lot of heavy damage. This was a major undertaking,” said Caltrans spokesman Patrick Chandler. “In no way was this like filling potholes; it was like building bridges underground to support the roadway.”

The cost of the work done has so far has totaled $32 million, most of which will be reimbursed to the state through a Federal Highway Administration emergency relief program, Chandler added.

The re-opening was welcome news to local business owners who’ve struggled without the popular highway’s usual traffic since the road was closed.

“We’re ecstatic,” said Fred Rundall Jr., manager of the Newcomb’s Ranch restaurant, which he said lost as much as 90% of its customer base during the extended closure. “We anticipate it’s going to be a zoo up here this weekend, which is great.”

Hill Street Café owner Mark Kim, whose restaurant is located across from the highway’s southern terminus at Foothill Boulevard in La Cañada, was also looking forward to the return of motorcyclists, hikers and other forest enthusiasts to the area.

“Angeles Crest Highway is very important for the city, and it brings a lot of business,” said Kim. “On Sundays, we used to have groups of bikers eat here before they go up [the highway] — 15, 20 at a time.”

Chandler said those wishing to be among the first to drive the reconstructed highway on Friday morning must approach from the Angeles National Forest entrance two miles north of the Foothill (210) Freeway. The road will open to traffic heading southwest from Angeles Forest Highway only after the first cars make their way from La Cañada to that intersection.

State authorities, meanwhile, urged drivers and motorcyclists who use the newly opened highway to use extreme caution. According to data from the CHP’s Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System, between January 1, 2007 and December 31, 2008, there were 164 motorcycle-involved collisions on the Angeles Crest. Among those collisions, eight were fatal, seven of which were the result of unsafe speed. Speed was also the primary factor for 98 motorcycle-involved collisions that resulted in injuries.

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