Freeway in California partially reopens after bridge damage

Construction workers stand near the collapsed elevated section of Interstate 10, Wednesday, July 22, 2015, near Desert Center, Calif. Crews continued worked to fortify the bridge that a surge of floodwater damaged with a goal to reopen the main route connecting Los Angeles and Phoenix by Friday. (Tom Tingle/The Arizona Republic via AP)

DESERT CENTER, Calif. (AP) — A 50 mile-stretch of a vital California interstate linking Los Angeles and Phoenix partially reopened Friday after flash flooding damaged several bridges last weekend.

Traffic began moving again on the desert stretch of Interstate 10 where a surge of storm water barreling down a gully Sunday carved away the soil under concrete bridge supports. The eastbound span buckled into the gully and a driver was seriously injured.

The reopening is welcome news for travelers and truckers, but traffic bottlenecks will remain.

The California Department of Transportation said delays as long as half an hour can be expected at peak travel times, including Friday evenings and late Sunday afternoons.

Construction crews labored around the clock to meet an aggressive timetable for shoring up the westbound span over Tex Wash. One of its two lanes is being used for traffic heading toward Arizona until the eastbound span is rebuilt.

The workers have focused on pouring concrete and placing new flood protection boulders.

The damaged bridges crossed gullies that became swollen with rain when an unusually strong summer storm dumped up to 7 inches in the area near Desert Center, about 50 miles west of California’s border with Arizona.

On the approach to Tex Wash, traffic heading east is using a specially laid road across the median to connect to the westbound interstate. On the other side of the bridge, the traffic takes another connector back to eastbound lanes.

Repairs to the eastbound span will take longer.

Since Sunday, traffic has been forced to take a diversion of several hours along smaller desert highways. Caltrans closed about 50 miles of interstate west of Tex Wash, to the outskirts of Indio, as inspectors checked the safety of other bridges. They found that bridges over three other washes also suffered lesser erosion damage.

The resulting detour has created major headaches for people who rely on Interstate 10, but it has benefited towns along Interstate 8 to the south. Thousands more visitors have passed through Yuma, Arizona, a normally sleepy city along the highway to San Diego.

Caltrans was able to do the repairs quickly thanks to a $4.9 million emergency contract with a private construction firm — and a little help from the federal government.

On Wednesday, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in six counties affected by the storms that were spawned by the remnants of a tropical storm that slid north from the coast of Baja California. With that declaration, the U.S. Department of Transportation offered California $2 million in emergency funds.

Caltrans has not said how much it projects the total repair and reconstruction costs will be.

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