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article imageHeavy rains, floods wash away parts of I-10 in So. California

By Megan Hamilton     Jul 22, 2015 in Environment
Desert Center - The major route connecting Los Angeles and Phoenix, which was closed when a huge surge of floodwater damaged bridges spanning small desert washes will partially reopen Friday, much sooner than officials had earlier anticipated.
Earlier estimates by the California Department of Transportation pegged repairs on Interstate 10 to take weeks, but now, at least parts of the I-10 will be opened less than a week after the spans were damaged, The Associated Press reports.
Motorists will still have to deal with delays because only one lane will be open in each direction where one bridge collapsed.
The hardest-hit bridges were over Tex Wash, which was deluged with rainfall Sunday during a sudden and intense storm. The wash is normally dry, but when the swiftly-moving water hit, it eroded soil under the concrete that anchors one side of the interstate's westbound span, making it unstable.
This shows the extent of the damage to the bridge.
This shows the extent of the damage to the bridge.
YouTube screen grab
The eastbound span suffered more serious damage, buckling onto the desert floor. One driver was seriously injured when his truck partially fell off the roadbed toward the raging torrents below.
Because of the damage, some engineers say Caltrans may need to adopt stricter design and protection standards for bridges over highways, especially because heavy rains may be more likely in the coming months due to the ocean-warming El Nino perched off the coast.
El Ninos are transitory and come and go, but the general warming of the Earth may have long-term implications for bridges that cover desert washes. The 2014 U.S. National Climate Assessment noted that "recent trends towards increased heavy precipitation events will continue," and this includes the Southwest, where rainfall is expected to decrease overall, The Associated Press reports.
The Los Angeles Times notes this recent storm, which washed over the region Saturday and Sunday, was unusual both for its timing, because July rainstorms in Southern California are rare, and for its ferocity, the National Weather Service said.
Minor roadwork will continue on the westbound bridge when it is reopened and crews will continue to make major fixes to the to the eastbound bridge, AZCentral reports.
Caltrans sped up the process via an emergency contract with Granite Construction Inc., officials say.
Other bridges near the Tex Wash Bridge, Adiar Ditch Bridge and Hillock Ditch Bridge, were inspected in the aftermath of the storm and were found to need repairs. At the time, Caltrans said it expected the repairs to be finished by the end of the day on Tuesday.
Every day, 54,000 vehicles travel the I-10 where the washout occurred, about 50 miles west of the California-Arizona line, Caltrans says, per The Associated Press. Now, traffic is taking a detour of several hours along smaller desert highways.
Construction to rebuild the eastbound span will begin after one lane of traffic in each direction is routed over the westbound span beginning Friday. Caltrans doesn't have a timetable for its reconstruction.
Sunday's flooding was sparked by unusually intense rainfall of almost seven inches — powerful enough to wash away boulders that Caltrans had placed along the gully's bank to guard against erosion. Once the boulders were washed away, the water inundated the soil beneath the abutments where the bridge connected the road bed to solid land.
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