Angeles Crest won't reopen until November

Angeles Crest Highway is likely to remain closed until November as crews continue to repair major road damage caused by heavy winter storms, a Caltrans spokesman said Friday.

And the painstaking work is being slowed by motorcyclists and hikers who are ignoring closure signs and entering dangerous stretches of the mountain pass, officials said.

The reopening of the 66-mile Angeles Crest Highway has been delayed repeatedly since the Station fire roared through Angeles National Forest in August, burning more than 160,000 acres and searing miles of pavement, guardrails, road signs and markers. The damage was compounded by back-to-back rainstorms and subsequent debris flows that washed out large patches of the highway.

The $16.5 million in repairs is being completed under contract by Thousand Oaks-based Burn Pacific Construction.

"It is really an evolving situation," Caltrans spokesman Patrick Chandler said. "It is on a mountainside, so it is really difficult [work]. The geotechnical crew has found a lot of problem spots that are going to require a great deal of time."

One of the most severe washouts is near Brown Canyon, just beyond the Angeles Crest Ranger Station, Chandler said.

"They have made a lot of progress, but they have to rebuild the hillside just below the road, almost 200 feet up to the roadside," Chandler said.

At another significant washout about 10 miles north, crews are building support walls to buttress the roadway, Chandler said.

In March, Big Tujunga Road, Angeles Forest Highway and Upper Tujunga Canyon Road reopened, providing an alternative, circuitous route to popular Angeles National Forest destinations including Mt. Waterman ski resort and Newcomb's Ranch Restaurant and Bar.

Nevertheless, the ongoing closure of Angeles Crest Highway has struck a heavy blow to businesses along the highway that depend on the thousands of day trippers who typically crowd its two lanes each weekend.

Motorcyclists, bicyclists and hikers are eager to see the Crest reopen. La Cañada Flintridge resident Trent Sanders, who frequented the highway before it closed, said it is frustrating not to have access to some of the best trails in Angeles National Forest.

"You have the Silver Moccasin Trail, you have the Pacific Crest Trail, you have the Gabrielino Trail, and people want to hike those things," Sanders said. "And you can't."

Some people are so impatient for the road to reopen that they are ignoring road and forest closure signs entirely.

"This has been a big problem, particularly during holiday weekends," said John D. Wagner, an assistant public affairs officer for Angeles National Forest.

Hundreds of hikers have ventured into closed portions of the forest, Wagner said, adding that trespassers risk a verbal warning and a minimum fine of $75.

In addition, bicyclists and motorists have been spotted on precarious portions on Angeles Crest Highway, officials said. One motorcycle crew posted their illegal expedition on the Internet.

"They came across the closure at Mt. Wilson, went around the closure, and came to a spot where there was a huge crevice in the road," Chandler said. "They used the barricade to go over that crevice."

They proceeded down the highway before happening upon a work site. The California Highway Patrol was notified, and the motorcyclists were cited.

"A lot of [work crews] are coming up and down the road," Chandler said. "If motorcyclists, bicyclists and hikers are in the closure, that creates a delay because the workers are not going to work because they don't want to hurt anyone; they want to maintain safety."

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