Angeles Crest Highway in La Canada Flintridge

A CalTrans truck passes by the road closure on Angeles Crest Highway in La Canada Flintridge on Tuesday, May 10, 2011. (Raul Roa/Staff Photographer)

State transportation officials this week said they expect to reopen Angeles Crest Highway later this spring after they finish rebuilding large washouts, including a 200-foot-deep gorge 2.5 miles east of La Cañada Flintridge.

The California Department of Transportation closed the mountainous pass in August 2009, when the massive Station fire scorched portions of the highway and left other sections vulnerable to rockslides.

[Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect a spring opening date of the Angeles Crest Highway]

The initial closure was expected to be measured in weeks, but without the protections of vegetation, storms eroded and washed out large sections of pavement. Portions of the 66-mile Angeles Crest Highway have since reopened, but a 9-mile stretch has remained closed as crews work to rebuild heavily damaged areas.

Officials did not have an exact opening date, but said it would be before summer.

“I am sure there are a lot of people who are saying we are just continuing on and we have no end in sight, but that is not the case,” Caltrans spokesman Patrick Chandler said. “Late [spring] is what we expect and hope; that is the projection.”

The route is popular with motorcyclists, hikers and skiers who use the highway to access Angeles National Forest. It is also used as a commuter corridor for residents traveling between Palmdale and the Los Angeles basin.

Rehabilitating the mountain pass has involved painstaking engineering work, including rebuilding and fortifying hillsides eroded during rainstorms. Initials costs were pegged at $16.5 million. An updated figure was not available, Chandler said the Federal Highway Administration is picking up the tab.

Work on one of the most heavily damaged spots — a 200-foot-deep washout that occurred during the 2009-10 winter season near Brown Canyon — is complete, Chandler said. But in January, back-to-back storms triggered a similarly sized washout at mile marker 28.24 — 2.5 miles east of La Cañada Flintridge.

The soil being used to rebuild the hillside comes from the Angeles National Forest to preserve the local ecology, Chandler said.

“We can’t just hire a bunch of dirt haulers and have them bring it in,” Chandler said. “We have to ensure that the soil and materials are consistent.”

Construction crews are also installing mesh netting every 3 feet to act as a root system and stabilize the hillside, Chandler said.

Other problem spots along Angeles Crest Highway include a landslide area where water is streaming out from between the rocks, he added.

“We are not going to let people into the area just because they want a shortcut,” Chandler said. “We don’t want anyone flying through a construction zone where we have trucks on the road, or people on the road. We have to follow the law as well, so if the conditions are not entirely safe, both for the workers and the commuters, then we are not going to open.”

Meanwhile, U.S. Forest Service officials announced this week that they would reopen an additional 110 miles of trail within Angeles National Forest next week. Popular spots — including the Indian Canyon trailhead, Gold Mesa Campground, Bear Canyon Trail, Silver Moccasin Trail and the Sunset Ridge Trail — will be accessible as of Monday, said agency spokeswoman Sherry Rollman.

The areas to be reopened were evaluated based on factors such as natural recovery and hazard reduction, Rollman said. Only a handful of forest areas remained closed, she said, including Big Tujunga Canyon.

Volunteers played a key role in restoring the trails, picnic sites and campgrounds, she added.

“We have tried our best,” Rollman said. “We told everyone that as we were able to accomplish these goals, we will keep shrinking the closure area.”