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Two repaired locations near the entrance of the highway.

The Angeles Crest Highway Revisited
by  Patrick Chandler
Issue Date: 01/2011

The Angeles Crest Highway, also known as State Route 2 (SR-2), or as some locals (hikers, bikers, Antelope Valley commuters) call it “The Crest,” is a highway that was built on a dream, hope, and blood sweat and tears.

As early as the beginning of the twentieth century, engineers, outdoor enthusiasts, businesses, and organizations (including the American Automobile Association) wanted a highway that would provide easier access for motorists from Greater Los Angeles through the Angeles National Forest to Wrightwood or San Bernardino County.

Built with early road construction techniques which included dynamite, donkey wagons, steam powered equipment, Civilian Conservation Corps, and inmates from San Quentin, SR-2 began its journey through the Angeles National Forest.

“Through some of the most rugged country in the United States, the California Division of Highways is opening up miles of recreational mountain areas by pushing the Angeles Crest from Los Angeles to Big Pines,” wrote Senior Highway Engineer John Ritter in the Division of Highway and Public Works Journal in the 1940s.

During the 90 years of the Angeles Crest Highway’s existence there have been 17 presidents in office and it has grown from a winding donkey trail to a 66-mile highway from La Cañada Flintridge to Wrightwood.

Unfortunately, because this highway is located in “rugged country” both natural and manmade disasters have required closures.

In September 2009, the Station fire raged through nearly 250 square miles of the Angeles National Forest, destroying several structures, and even three of the four homes at the Chilao Maintenance Yard. The denuded hillsides left the Angeles Crest Highway vulnerable to washouts, mudslides, and rockslides. Without vegetation to hold the mountain slopes in place, the rains in the months after the fire ended caused several sections of the highway to be washed away.

After severe rains in January 2010, a Caltrans damage assessment team determined that there were five sections where washouts ranged between 50 to 110 feet along the highway and about 200 feet below, making the highway unsafe and impassable.

After nearly a year, five of the most damaged highway sections have been repaired thanks to a cadre of seasoned Caltrans engineers, geologists, maintenance crews, environmental planners, and professionals.

This humble cadre oversaw the reconstruction of entire hillsides that in some places were 200 feet below the highway, and over 600 feet wide.

“The mountainous terrain of the Angeles National Forest has presented several challenges for this repair project,” said Resident Engineer Darrell McKenzie who has lead construction projects on the highway for nearly 15 years. “Spotty cell, radio, and satellite phone coverage, extremely steep and narrow workspace, and extreme weather play a major factor in the completion of projects on SR-2.”

Caltrans has accomplished a colossal feat in rebuilding the hillsides along the highway and doing so with time constraints, newly developing data and new designs, unstable soil, and so on.

SR-2 is still closed to motorists. Crews need to stripe the highway, debris basins, and clear and secure the highway from rockslides. It is possible that the highway will open to the public in January 2011.


 

The hillside and roadway repaired.  A large culvert and flume added for erosion protection. Soldier pile wall completed east of Angeles Forest Hwy. Workers clear drain pipes to prevent washouts and mudslides. A bulldozer rebuilds a burm near Mt. Wilson Rd.