When the Ortega Highway was shut down for a cycling event sponsored by an Orange County promoter this fall, questions were raised about closure logistics and proper notification to commuters and local residents.
Now a Lake Elsinore lawmaker is leaning on Caltrans and Orange County officials to improve communications with Riverside County and those who live here, but not everyone agrees there's a problem.
for five hours, from 7 a.m. until shortly after noon. Promoters from Go Forward Racing of Dana Point received permission from the state department of transportation in both counties to close the public road for the cycling portion of the Orangeman Half-Distance Triathlon.
Assemblymen Kevin Jeffries (R-Lake Elsinore), vice chair of a transportation committee that oversees all Caltrans projects, said residents in Riverside County were not given proper notice of the road closure.
“This is not a suitable road to be used for a specific entertainment venue,” Jeffries said. “The Ortega is a huge tourism draw for local businesses and a major highway with no nearby alternate routes.”
Shelli Lombardo, Caltrans public information officer in San Bernardino, said the event was issued an encroachment permit and Caltrans reviews promoter’s traffic management plans for signage placement.
“It is the promoter’s responsibility to install or put up the signs following the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Device, a federal document for road managers,” Lombardo said.
David Fillis, a former volunteer fireman and 28-year-resident of El Cariso Village, said he left early to go grocery shopping on Sept. 25, and when he came back local access in and out of the village was blocked.
“We were prisoners in our own homes,” Fillis said.
Tyler Paulson, owner of Hell’s Kitchen in El Cariso, countered Fillis.
“The event promoters approached us five months before the race,” he said.
Paulson contends that race representatives posted flyers and signs in the village, held a pre-race dinner at Hell’s Kitchen and bought gift baskets from the local gift shop, Kristi’s Korner.
“This is a positive event for the Ortega,” Paulson said.
The two-lane Ortega Highway winds through the Cleveland National Forest and is known for Paulson said he liked having an event that produced a positive image of the route to people across the nation and around the world.
“We feel the Ortega is the most optimal route for a race of this type in South Orange County,” said David Flournoy, co-founder of Go Forward Racing. “This type of race draws tourism into the communities where they are held. We had more than 700 participants from 17 states and four countries.”
Jeffries said he wants to improve the communication between both counties on road closures and proper signage when the assembly is back in session in January.
“There needs to be more sensitivity when making approvals on closing public roads for private events,” Jeffries said.