By Douglas W. Motley
Highway 18, a major route both into and out of the San Bernardino Mountains communities, is now open to through traffic without the use of pilot cars, with the exception of brief periods while construction crews continue to replace center dividers in the middle of the road and guardrails along the edges.
According to Caltrans Public Information Officer Emily Leinen, the highway reopened at 4:15 p.m. last Thursday, Jan. 20. “We opened two weeks ahead of schedule and we would have opened sooner but we had to wait until the new asphalt paving was cured and dry enough to drive on,” Leinen said.
During a guided tour of the previously washed-out and caved-in segment of Highway 18 in a turnout below Panorama Point last Thursday, Leinen told The Alpine Mountaineer that the washout, which occurred on Christmas Eve, was caused by a large downpour that triggered a mud and rock debris flow across the roadway which weakened it and caused it to collapse.
“We had a crew out there that evening to put up a roadblock to stop the flow of traffic, which was re-routed back down the mountain. The next morning, Christmas Day, our Caltrans crews began evaluating the situation to figure out what needed to be done to fix the road.
“That evaluation took about two weeks,” Leinen continued, “during which time we put out bids for a contractor to do the work. Skanska Construction came in with the low bid of 4.3 million dollars, although, because of the expense of hiring pilot vehicles, the cost rose to over 5 million.
“So far, the weather has been on our side, which has helped us a lot. The culvert that was constructed to divert the water flow across the highway and over the side of the mountain did exactly what it was designed to do; otherwise, there would have been a full washout and the entire highway, both lanes, would have collapsed,” Leinen said, adding that the culvert has been reconstructed and is much larger than the previous one.
The washout area, Leinen said, has been replaced with the original soil, which has had all the large rocks and boulders removed and then reinforced with a metal netting that holds the compacted dirt in place. She went on to explain how they are going install a new drainage system to water the entire slope and then hydroseed it to promote plant growth so that the plant roots will hold the soil in place.
“Spanish Broom, which has beautiful yellow flowers that you can see in the spring and summer, has very deep roots, and that should help quite a lot.”
Leinen praised the contractor, Skanska Construction, for the great job they have done. “Skanska is really good at what they do.”