Ortega Highway Shutdown Prompts Scrutiny

A Riverside County lawmaker is expected to raise the closure issue in Sacramento.

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.



aristotle November 14, 2011 at 02:21 PM
Since the Lake Elsinore Valley suffered from the loss of business, next time include that area for some of the promotion and activity. An "up the hill" race on the Lake Elsinore side might have been interesting. You could call it the Mathies Climb after a very old firefighter that rides that route regularly.
simple November 14, 2011 at 04:47 PM
OC residents don't come to Lk Els to do their business. It only hurts our residents that commute there. If they had brains they'd move outa this armpit anyways!
Diana November 14, 2011 at 05:25 PM
I think that more residents Of Murrietta and Temecula use the Ortega Hwy for their commute to OC.There are roughly 10,000 cars that pass down Grand daily to access the Ortega during the week. We recently while on vacation experienced the same kind of event in the Colorado Rockies. The town below was packed with tourists, the hotels full to the capacity, a welcome event by the town. I don't think that anything that happens in this town is actually promoted properly to let people know what is going on. Until the Patch, but not everyone knows about the Patch to keep informed. I think that any kind of event that is in or around our area should be welcomed with open arms, LE needs tourism.
Christi November 14, 2011 at 11:41 PM
I saw several reports of the road closure weeks ahead of time. There were signs up 2 weeks before the event. How someone wouldn't know about it is beyond me. Oh and I don't even drive the Ortega.
Robert Lougee November 15, 2011 at 01:33 PM
Whether or not this issue was promoted in advance does not change the fact that when the Ortega is closed for any reason, the impact is great since the other options for travel to Orange County are far less than optimal. I work in in southern San Clemente. My position requires that I am on call and have to remain within 90 minutes of my work location one week out of four. When the Ortega closed down and had I been on call I would be forced to rent a hotel room on the OC side or make arrangements for someone to cover my emergency response obligations during the time the road is closed for such a trivial reason (Yes, I take this responsibility that seriously!). This is a non issue for most of the roads in this area, since there are suitable alternatives if one of them happened to close, but the Ortega Hwy is different since it is a single point vulnerability without reasonable work around options in the event of a closure.


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