Expanded escorts that started Thursday on storm-damaged state Route 74 will continue until Monday morning to ensure access to Idyllwild-area mountain retreats during the Fourth of July holiday weekend, according to Caltrans.

At about 4 a.m. Thursday, crews began 20-hour daily escorts along a 15-mile segment of Highway 74 between Hemet and Mountain Center — which sustained extensive damage during torrential downpours on Feb. 14.

Pilot vehicles were providing travelers guided passage on the two-lane artery until midnight. The expanded holiday weekend escorts will conclude shortly after midnight Monday, Caltrans said. After that, escorts will resume between 4 a.m. and 8 a.m., as well as 6 p.m. to midnight, on weekdays, with expanded hours on weekends.

In mid-March, sufficient space was repaired on the 74 to permit traffic on the highway, traveling under escort and at a maximum 25 mph, during a few hours each morning and night. The hours of operation were increased in May on the damaged half of the route. Unobstructed travel is permitted on the part of the highway running east from Mountain Center to Palm Springs.

After the Valentine’s Day storms, Caltrans counted 40 spots on Highway 74 that needed attention, the worst being the Strawberry Creek crossing three miles west of Mountain Center, where the roadway caved in and disappeared.

Similarly, officials found more than two dozen points along the state Route 243 that required repairs.

The north half of the 243 between Lake Fulmor and Banning remains out of service, with a segment of the collapsed two-lane highway being rebuilt

Idyllwild-area businesses have been impacted by the closures. In response to their concerns, with the support of Riverside County Supervisor Chuck Washington, Caltrans has stepped up efforts to make travel accommodations.

Complete re-opening of the two highways is not expected until after summer.

Burnsville, Minnesota-based Ames Construction Inc. is handling the emergency repair projects at a cost of roughly $10 million to the state.

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