Caltrans is repairing a culvert under Highway 243. Since the work requires removal of the highway surface to replace the old with a new culvert, the highway is closed in both directions at that area. The project is just north of Lake Fulmor. Photo by JP Crumrine

On Friday, Dec. 7, Highway 243 was closed in both directions through Friday, Dec. 14, Caltrans announced last week.

The closure location is just north of Lake Fulmor and work will continue 24/7 until it’s completed.

Caltrans stressed in its press release, “Traffic will not be allowed to cross. Please be advised that traffic will be turned around, so plan to use an alternate route.”

Caltrans coordinated the closure with the Riverside County Sheriff’s and Emergency Management departments, as well as the Idyllwild Fire Department.

The concern is that if a rainstorm floods the Cranston Fire area, traffic may have no way on or off the Hill. But while a rainstorm drenched the Hill before the work began, the weather forecast for this week expects sunny and slightly warmer weather.

Alex Tardy, meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s San Diego office, wrote, “I don’t have a lot of confidence in the storm on Dec. 11 or 12 but there’s potential for a couple weather systems between the 14th and 21st.”

While a major storm this week is unlikely, Hill residents have been conditioned to be aware of looming inclement weather. Since August, Hill residents have been advised to prepare for evacuations and the closing of Highway 74 in case of severe precipitation.

The emergency first responders are aware of the Highway 243 closing and have discussed possible alternative plans in case a surprise weather system were to develop while Caltrans is working on Highway 243, according to Brooke Frederico, EMD senior public information specialist.

As of last week, all the emergency officials felt this was a good time for the Highway 243 repairs. The project’s cost is estimated to be $500,000.

A major culvert north of Lake Fulmor has outlived its useful life and this project will replace it. While it still functions, its capacity is limited, according to Shane Massoud, Caltrans public information officer.

Its current limited capability could result in more water passing over or flooding the highway. “A possible bigger storm could cause the culvert to fail. This will be a 24-hour operation. The contractor will have two fully staffed crews working 12-hour shifts to replace it as quickly as possible,” said Massoud.

The engineer on site was concerned that failure to replace the culvert could eventually lead to a sinkhole.