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By Allison Jarrell
The California Department of Transportation announced Tuesday morning that Ortega Highway could be restored and reopened in about three weeks from today, so long as weather permits.
That estimate comes following an investigation of the storm damage by a Caltrans geological technical engineer, said Caltrans spokeswoman Jocelyn Whitfield.
The highway has been closed eastbound at Gateway Place and westbound at Nichols Institute since Jan. 25 due to severe damage caused by heavy rainfall. Officials said the roadway was “severely undermined by the recent storms,” specifically at post mile 5.5, which is about 1.5 miles east of Antonio Parkway.
Whitfield said maintenance crews were vigilantly checking Ortega Highway after the heavy rains when they first noticed a “dip” in both lanes of the road on Jan. 25. As crews monitored the dip, the “pavement began to crack” and a flagging operation was conducted to assess what was going on underneath the pavement. After some assessment, Caltrans declared an emergency closure later that day.
“It was determined that the recent storms created a 2-foot void under the lanes where soil and roadway material had been washed away causing the depression,” Whitfield said. “While that was of considerable concern, the road cracking indicated that there were deeper tension issues which also could possibly affect the stability of the road.”
Whitfield said Caltrans will begin excavating the damaged soil and materials and then fill any voids with grout before rebuilding the roadway. She said the “restoration operation will run 24/7 until the roadway is fully repaired and reopened to traffic.”
The closure going eastbound in Orange County is near Cristianitos and Gibby Roads in San Juan Capistrano, east of Antonio Parkway and La Pata Avenue. Coming westbound from Riverside County, the closure is at Nichols Institute Road in San Juan Capistrano.
For continuous updates on the closure, follow Caltrans District 12’s Facebook page “CT Santa Ana” or Twitter account @Caltrans12, contact the District 12 public information office at 657.328.6000, or visit www.dot.ca.gov/d12/index.html.