Rep. Raul Ruiz updated on progress of highways 74 and 243

Congressman Raul Ruiz (CA-36) discussing the progress of Highway 243 with Caltrans Public and Media Affairs Chief Terri Kasinga after a safety briefing before the tour. 
Photo by Melissa Diaz Hernandez

With emergency evacuation routes and the status of Idyllwild businesses making news headlines, Rep. Raul Ruiz, CA-36, questioned Caltrans officials on Monday, July 29 on just how much longer the roads will take to open for the safety and economy of Idyllwild. 

Terri Kasinga, public and media affairs chief for Caltrans district 8, told the group that Highway 243 should be open with a pilot car by spring of 2020, but that it would be a year before things were back to normal. 

Resident Engineer for Caltrans Amgad Benjamin told the Town Crier just after the tour of Highway 243 that paving on Highway 74 started that day. There will be paving for approximately six more days and then finishing touches that should take a couple of weeks followed by the addition of guardrails. 

Ruiz followed up on that news telling the group that residents have a target date and can think positively because they only have to deal with the commute or pilot car schedule for that much longer. There is an end in sight. 

Caltrans Resident Engineer Amgad Benjamin explaining the progress made on Highway 243 in detail to Congressman Raul Ruiz, CA-36.   Photo by Melissa Diaz Hernandez

Caltrans officials emphasized throughout the entire tour that the progress depends on the weather and fire season. 

“The community here is resilient, patient and understanding,” stated Ruiz to a group before the External Affairs Manager David Knudsen of Caltrans briefed the group on safety before departing on the tour. 

Ruiz commented that Caltrans is building the roads to be stronger and safer for generations to come and withstand extreme weathers. 

“We should be planning and preparing for not just repairing the patches of the road to make them workable, but we should be planning to better prepare our infrastructure before the extreme weathers ahead 40, 60, 80 years from now, and they are doing that here,” Ruiz told his constituents as he was live on Facebook after the Highway 243 tour. Ruiz was promoting tourism to Idyllwild by encouraging those who need a getaway or want to escape the heat to come to Idyllwild. 

The geosynthetic material Caltrans is adding to further increase the safety and security of the roads. Photo by Melissa Diaz Hernandez

The road conditions have played a role in how families with children, who participate in activities off the mountain, have had to shift schedules and activities around. The families with high school students have been impacted by travel time commuting to the valley for school and school activities. 

The condition of highways 74 and 243 have had an impact on surrounding economies. Some commuters, who are unable to utilize the Monday through Friday pilot car hours are still traveling through Garner Valley and Anza to the Hemet or Temecula areas for work or appointments. 

The question was asked just how much wear and tear have been added to those roads as commuters have had to reroute. 

Residents in Garner Valley, according to Idyllwild Fire Protection District Fire Chief Mark LaMont who joined the tour, have noticed that the higher volume of travelers has continued since the storms on Valentine’s Day, even with the pilot car hours down to Hemet. 

One of the ways Caltrans is making the roads safer and stronger is the addition of geosynthetic material (“A planar product manufactured from polymeric material used with soil, aggregate, or other geotechnical engineering materials as an integral part of a civil engineering project,” according to a Caltrans Geotechnical Manual) to help secure and stabilize the roads. 

Public safety officials confidently told Ruiz that residents and tourists would be able to be evacuated in an emergency should the need arise. Ames Construction would play an integral role during an evacuation. 

“The communication between the public safety agencies and Ames [Construction] has been great,” stated LaMont.