A stretch of state Route 74 between Hemet and Mountain Center that was severely damaged during the Valentine's Day storm was opened to limited travel Saturday and remain available to commuters, with restrictions, in the coming days.
According to officials, the 15-mile segment of Highway 74 that was shut down after whole sections collapsed during the Feb. 14 floods that inflicted more than $70 million in damage throughout Riverside County was opened to travel, under escort, Saturday morning.
The Easter holiday was cited as a primary factor in prompting the accommodation.
Caltrans spokesman Shane Massoud said that from 6 a.m. to midnight Saturday and Sunday a road director will guide vehicles on both the east- and westbound sides of the 74 through the areas where repairs are being completed.
Beginning Monday, Caltrans pilot vehicles will escort commuters on both sides of the two-lane corridor daily, between 5 a.m. and 8 a.m., and then again between 6 p.m. and midnight. Outside of these hours, the full closure will be in effect, requiring motorists to take detours, Massoud said.
The speed limit along the entire route will be 25 mph. In construction zones, anyone caught attempting to speed will be fined double the standard citation amount, according to Massoud.
He said flaggers will periodically stop traffic to ensure construction vehicles have access during the open travel hours.
The California Highway Patrol closed the 15-mile segment on the night of Feb. 14, after downpours caused road surfaces to buckle inward, leaving numerous breaks and major sinkholes. The worst damage was at the Strawberry Creek crossing, about three miles west of Mountain Center.
Burnsville, Minnesota-based Ames Construction Inc. was hired -- at a cost of nearly $10 million -- under a Caltrans emergency work order to repair the pitted portions of Highway 74, as well as Highway 243 between Banning and Mountain Center.
Earlier this month, a nearly 10-mile segment of Highway 243 just north of Idyllwild was reopened after a seven-week closure stemming from the Valentine's Day storm.
According to Caltrans, the portion of the two-lane corridor between Idyllwild-Pine Cove and the Lake Fulmor recreation area was restored after crews worked 24-hour shifts.
More than two dozen locations on the 243 were damaged, while over 40 spots along Highway 74 sustained damage in the storm, officials said.
The stretch of Route 243 between Idyllwild and Banning remains entirely shut down.