Highways 74, 243 remain open to Idyllwild in winter conditions

Snow piled almost 2 feet high borders the edges of Highway 74 to Mountain Center just above the 3,000-foot level Saturday, Nov. 30, following the near record breaking snow and rainstorm on the San Jacinto Mountains. The snow is nearly melted by Monday, Dec. 2, but more rain and snow is predicted. Valley News/Tony Ault photo

Nearly a year of work by Caltrans contractors to repair storm damaged Highways 74 and 243 leading to Idyllwild paid off Thanksgiving holiday weekend when near record heavy early rain and snow fell on the roadways.

Except for a small roadway slip on Highway 243 that was repaired quickly and heavy snowplow traffic over Nov. 27-28, the two mountain roads remained open with chains advised. A rockfall on Highway 74 did hit the front of a car, but no one was injured in that incident, according to the California Highway Patrol.

Motorists traveling up Highway 74 and 243 above 3,000 feet were treated to a wintery scene with snow laying heavy on pine tree branches, 2-foot piles of plowed snow on the sides of the road and the mountains completely covered in white from Black Mountain, Taquitz Peak and north to Mt. San Jacinto. Children played in the snow at the Lake Hemet parking lot and along the many highway turnouts. While a few of the turnouts were used for the snow play that weekend, Caltrans does not recommend them for safety’s sake.

Terri Kassinga, chief of public and media affairs for Caltrans District 8, said she saw the predicted winter storm coming and the warming temperatures bringing heavy snow melt.

“I’m more concerned with the snowmelt this week rather than the rain,” Kassinga said Monday, Dec. 2.

Her concern was with the continuing $25 million culvert, storm pipeline and asphalt berm construction on the two mountain highways.

“We just started putting down the cement (for the pipelines),” Kassinga said.

She said she was very concerned about the possible runoff from the snow melt causing some damage and delays for the project expected to last almost a year.

The greatest snowmelt was seen Wednesday and Thursday, Nov. 27-28, because of the warming temperatures and new storm systems.

“Right now the roads are good,” she said.

However, Caltrans told motorists to keep up with road conditions by using the Caltrans QuickMap on the web. With winter driving conditions coming early this year Caltrans suggested drivers to check their tires and wipers to make sure they are in good condition.

Caltrans also recommended having a full tank of gas; slowing down when driving in adverse weather conditions and reducing speeds when roads are icy or wet and sight of distance is affected.

Avoid travel during heavy rain or snow events.

Never drive impaired. Always designate a driver.

Bring chains when traveling to the mountain areas. Weather in the mountain areas is often unpredictable. Be smart by having chains in the vehicle in case chain control is issued.

Chain installers are available on most mountain routes during chain control. Use the Caltrans-approved chain installers with authorized bibs for safety and to protect the vehicle.

Never use turnouts or park in the middle of the roadway for snow play. Only park in designated areas and do not trespass on private property.

For long trips bring water, warm clothing, blankets, a charged cellphone and charger, medications, snacks and other necessary items.

Do not attempt to pass through road closure signs. Never drive through running water or flooded roadways.

Remember, turn around; don’t drown.

Be a safe and courteous driver. It only adds a few minutes to the travel time and makes it a more enjoyable drive for everyone.

To assist in planning a commute, view live traffic conditions using QuickMap and planned lane closures at www.dot.ca.gov.

Tony Ault can be reached by email at tault@reedermedia.com.