SR 74 requires pilot car; travelers report 45-minute delays
■ Chronicle News Staff
Residents and visitors to Idyllwild and Mountain Center and the surrounding areas were able to drive up and down the mountain as of last Saturday, albeit with some restrictions on Highway 74, where pilot cars escorted traffic in a single direction. Highway 243, however, had no restrictions when it opened Saturday.
The Cranston Fire was 96 percent contained at press time after having burned more than 13,139 acres and was still burning in a small area back into the San Bernardino National Forest.
Caltrans and the California Highway Patrol announced the openings of State Routes 243 and 74 to the communities of Idyllwild, Mountain Center, Apple Canyon and Lake Hemet as of noon on Saturday. The pilot vehicle escorts on SR 74 are in both directions between Lake Hemet and Mountain Center and from Mountain Center to Valle Vista/Hemet.
The need for a pilot car is delaying traffic considerably, and Caltrans estimates that it is taking an additional 45 minutes between Mountain Center and Valle Vista to allow the pilot vehicle to take traffic in one direction and then return. An equal delay is being experienced between Lake Hemet and Mountain Center as the pilot car travels about 25 mph.
The CHP is concerned that motorists will be distracted by the sight of so much destroyed wild land. The delays, however, are because the road needs to be repaired with new guard rails, signs, striping and erosion control landscaping, among other repairs. Caltrans is being assisted by Ames Construction. Flagging and traffic holds will take place on both routes until the work is complete.
The CHP requests that drivers exercise patience when traveling up and down the highway and follow all instructions from law enforcement as workers will be active for several weeks repairing the roadway.
State Routes 74 and 243 are both subject to immediate closure in event of storms due to the possibility of flash flooding as a result of the Cranston Fire, according to the CHP. Check for weather conditions before you travel and avoid travel during rain events indefinitely, they say. For more information, visit the National Weather Service at https://www.weather.gov/safety/flood-hazards