DESERT CENTER, Calif. (AP) — Construction crews have been laboring around the clock to meet a Friday deadline for the partial reopening of about 50 miles of Interstate 10 through the California desert that was closed when flash flooding damaged several bridges.
The California Department of Transportation said limited traffic would resume at noon — five days after the vital link between Los Angeles and Phoenix was shut down.
The opening is welcome news for travelers and truckers, but traffic bottlenecks will remain.
The department said to expect delays of up to half an hour at peak travel times — including Friday evenings and late Sunday afternoons — at the most badly damaged bridge, where traffic will squeeze down to one lane in each direction.
The bridges crossed desert gullies that became swollen with rain Sunday when an unusually strong summer storm dumped up to 7 inches in the area near Desert Center, about 50 miles west of California’s border with Arizona.
Worst hit was the bridge over Tex Wash, where fast-moving water scoured away soil that anchored both the eastbound and westbound spans to the gully’s eastern bank.
The eastbound span buckled into the gully, but the westbound span remained standing. It is there that workers have focused their efforts, pouring concrete and placing new flood protection boulders so traffic could use the structure.
On the approach to Tex Wash, traffic heading east will use a specially laid road across the median to connect to one lane of the westbound interstate. On the other side of the bridge, the traffic will take another connector back to eastbound lanes.
Repairs to the eastbound span, where one driver was seriously injured after his truck partially fell off the collapsed bridge, will take longer.
Since Sunday, traffic has been forced to take a diversion of several hours along smaller desert highways. Caltrans closed about 50 miles of interstate west of Tex Wash, all the way to the outskirts of Indio, as inspectors checked the safety of other bridges.
The resulting detour has created major headaches for people who rely on Interstate 10, but it has benefited towns along Interstate 8 to the south. Thousands more visitors have passed through Yuma, Arizona, a normally sleepy city along the highway to San Diego.
Caltrans was able to do the repairs quickly thanks to an emergency contract with a private construction firm — and a little help from the federal government. On Wednesday, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in six counties affected by the storms that were spawned by the remnants of a tropical storm that slid north from the coast of Baja California.
With that declaration, the U.S. Department of Transportation offered California $2 million in emergency funds.
Caltrans has not said how much it projects the total repair and reconstruction costs will be.
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