Beginning Tuesday, the number of hours available to access a stretch of state Route 74 between Hemet and Mountain Center that was severely damaged during a winter storm are increasing.

According to Caltrans, the 15-mile segment of Highway 74 will be accessible Tuesday — and every morning afterward — starting at 4 a.m.

During Easter weekend, Caltrans opened the previously entirely closed segment for limited travel, under escort, between 5 a.m. and 8 a.m., and then again between 6 p.m. and midnight daily.

According to agency spokesman Shane Massoud, the new morning access time will offer commuters a four-hour block in which to make the slow journey between Hemet and Mountain Center, east- or westbound.

The evening access hours will not change. Outside of these hours, the full closure remains in force.

“We’re doing this for people who have to travel a little farther to get to work in the morning,” Massoud told City News Service.

Caltrans pilot vehicles continue to guide motorists along the two-lane corridor, where the speed limit is 25 mph.

Massoud said open, unrestricted access to the 74 is not likely until mid-summer. There remain at least 10 places on the highway where extensive repairs are underway.

“We’re replacing culverts, and that involves tearing out the whole roadway bed, so it’s major,” Massoud said.

The California Highway Patrol closed the 15-mile segment on the night of Feb. 14, after downpours caused road surfaces to buckle inward, leaving numerous breaks and major sinkholes. The worst damage was at the Strawberry Creek crossing, about three miles west of Mountain Center.

Burnsville, Minnesota-based Ames Construction Inc. was hired — at a cost of nearly $10 million — under a Caltrans emergency work order to repair the pitted portions of Highway 74, as well as Highway 243 between Banning and Mountain Center.

Last month, a nearly 10-mile segment of Highway 243 just north of Idyllwild was reopened after a seven-week closure stemming from the Valentine’s Day storm.

More than two dozen locations on the 243 were damaged, while over 40 spots along Highway 74 sustained damage in the storm.

The stretch of Route 243 between Idyllwild and Banning remains entirely shut down.

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