Ortega Highway. Photo: Daniel Lane
Ortega Highway. Photo: Daniel Lane

The Ortega (74) Highway remained shut down Thursday between Lake Elsinore and San Juan Capistrano due to storm damage, the depth of which crews were attempting to ascertain to estimate how long repairs may take.

“The highway is built in layers, and right now one or more of the layers is unsupported, making it unsafe,” Caltrans District 12 spokeswoman Jocelyn Whitfield told City News Service.

She said geo-technical assessments were underway to gauge how far down the pavement has been compromised.

“We know there’s at least a 2-foot void,” Whitfield said. “But we still aren’t sure how much material was swept away.”

According to Whitfield, heavy rains from the five-day storm series that ended Monday night apparently washed out some of the supporting surface, creating a depression but not a sinkhole, as originally thought.

All of the damage is concentrated on a patch of roadway a half-mile east of Gibby Road, on the Orange County side of the highway, near Rancho Mission Viejo.

Caltrans warned that the closure could remain in effect for three weeks, but Whitfield said that timeline may change after engineers complete their assessment Friday or early next week.

According to the California Highway Patrol, the hard closure went into effect about 3 p.m. Wednesday.

The roughly 28-mile artery was closed at Antonio Parkway on the Orange County side and at Grand Avenue on the Riverside County side. However, the OC closure was moved Thursday to Gibby Road, providing additional convenience to area residents.

The CHP said people who live on roads connected to the Ortega will be permitted to go around barricades and use the highway — but not in the vicinity of the damaged roadway.

–City News Service 

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