Caltrans Has Ruined the Angeles Crest Highway


[UPDATE 10/12/12: Per the comment below forwarded from the Caltrans District 7 bicycle coordinator, the “chip seal” pavement is temporary, and a top coat of pavement will be applied before the project is completed sometime in November 2012. The original post below has not been edited.

UPDATE 1/22/13: Still no top coat of pavement on top of the chip seal.

UPDATE 8/26/13: Near Wrightwood, the chip seal has smoothed out (a bit) with use. But then they recently came back and applied fresh chip seal to the shoulders. Furthermore, that fresh chip seal on the shoulders as been poorly applied, with many dips and valleys big enough to catch road bike tires, making it unrideable. Luckily I haven’t been harassed for riding in the (somewhat) smoother pavement in the travel lane. Photo at the bottom of this post.]

I have a weekend cabin in the town of Wrightwood. One of my favorite bicycle rides is heading out my front door westbound onto Highway 2 and back – until yesterday. The highway has been resurfaced with a chip seal (photos below) from the Los Angeles County line, ending 13 miles west at Dawson Saddle. If the “road work next 60 miles” sign in Wrightwood is any indication, than this is planned for the remainder of the rural part of the highway.

Chip seal makes for a noisier ride in a car, but for bicyclists it’s a much harsher ride compared to smoother blacktop. Although I haven’t ridden a motorcycle in a long time, I can’t imagine motorcyclists would be happy with this either.

I realize the choice of chip seal was probably a cost savings measure. It’s not an uncommon treatment for rural roads in other parts of the country, especially in locations where there’s a large number of low volume roads to maintain. But this road is in an area where there’s no other through roads. In addition, this road sees a significant amount of motorcyclist and bicyclist tourist traffic outside of the winter months. I can’t imagine that the bicycle racers from the Tour of California – an event which brings tourism dollars to the area – would enjoy riding on 40 miles of this if they were to repeat the route from Stage 6 in 2010. Those same 40 miles also form part of Adventure Cycling’s Sierra Cascades bicycle touring route.

Furthermore, they’ve really done this on the cheap and only resurfaced to the fog line, which can pose additional hazards to bicyclists.

I’m sure what’s done is done this time around. Let’s just hope that Caltrans will reconsider the choice of chip seal the next time the road is due for a resurfacing.

Below are some photos.

Westbound on Highway 2, leaving San Bernardino County and entering Los Angeles County.


Here’s a closeup of the pavement. New chip seal.


The fresh chip seal continues all the way to Dawson Saddle, 13 miles west of the county line.


Sign in Wrightwood. Does Caltrans plan to chip seal the entire Angeles Crest Highway?


Just before the turnoff to Big Pines Highway. Note the abundance of loose rock.


Approaching Blue Ridge. Steep drop off from the new to the old pavement.


The last two paving jobs have repaved less of the highway each time.


Here’s a closeup of the above pavement.


UPDATE 8/26/13: The pavement in the travel lanes has smoothed out a bit, but then they came back and paved the shoulders. In many places the paving is inconsistent, with cracks and sharp dropoffs, making it unusable by bicyclists.


35 thoughts on “Caltrans Has Ruined the Angeles Crest Highway

  1. Pingback: L.A. cycling loses its best friend, as Councilmember Bill Rosendahl announces he won’t seek re-election « BikingInLA

  2. derek

    wow. that’s pretty awful. what were they thinking? as an avid cyclist that rides up there a ton, it just shows how stupid decisions come one after another from the people that run things at CalTrans. Unbelievable. I’m going to call them and I suggest others do too.

  3. Crystal Lake

    It is likely that this road work is not completed, the rough surface will probably be coated with a tar slurry that will be laid down later. Unless this is designed to wake up drivers that are falling asleep, it is very unlikely that it will be left like this.

  4. BikingBrian Post author

    @Derek – A cyclist who regular attends the Caltrans Bicycle Advisory Committee meetings said he will bring this up at the next meeting in downtown LA.

    @Crystal Lake – I hope you’re right. I didn’t think of that possibility, since they’ve already done the center line and fog line striping. Then again, the plastic “cat tracks” sticking up on the center line are still in place. So it is possible that they will come back and put another coat on top and then repaint the stripes.

  5. Patrick Chandler

    Yes, I would suggest calling Caltrans District 7 at 213-897-3656 to find out about the project. Though, Caltrans District 8 maintains SR-2 from the LA County line to Islip Saddle. Also, before railing against Caltrans you may remember that it was Caltrans who spent $10 million to rebuild the connection between Wrightwood and the rest of the forest. It was also Caltrans that spent over $30 million of federal funds to repair the severe washouts during post-Station Fire rains. Those repairs are very extensive and unfortunately not cheap. Furthermore, it is Caltrans maintenance that risk there lives to clear the ice, snow, and rocks, and keep that highway open so everyone can experience the great ANF. Additionally, it was Caltrans maintenance crews that lost 3 of their 4 Chilao Maintenance Station homes to the Station Fire while they were out clearing the roadways for firefighters. Actually, you can call me if you’d like –213-897-3630.

  6. Sean Yeager

    Bummer I really hope they tar it. The rest of the crest is so nice. I was planing on putting in some miles up there next week

  7. John Schubert

    In Pennsylvania, tar and chip is about 1/10 the cost of conventional repaving. Given our budget constraints, that is a pretty compelling motivator. After a couple weeks, when the loose stones are all gone it is an acceptable riding surface.
    You need to put more money in your state budget to get rid of tar and chip paving.
    All that said, not treating the shoulder and leaving a longitudinal lip is completely unacceptable.

  8. Stephen Box

    from our Bike/Ped Coordinator at Caltrans District 7:

    “This project is in both L.A. County (District 7) and San Bernadino County
    (District 8). I have inquired as to the status of this project and who is
    responsible for overseeing the project. I have checked with Mr. Ed
    Toledo, who is the Maintenance Supervisor for this area. Ed informed me
    that the existing “chip seal” condition is iterim, and the roadway,
    including the shoulders, will be overlayed again, with a smoother coat.
    The project is scheduled to be completed in November 2012, weather
    permitting. Caltrans is the lead on the project. The resident engineer is
    based in the Glendale Field Office, and the project engineer is Debbie
    Wong. I am checking with Debbie as to the construction procedures.”

    If you have any questions, please contact me.

    Dale Benson
    District 7 Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator
    SRTS, SR2S, HSIP, EEM, BTA, Federal Discretionary, Grants Coordinator
    Senior Transportation Engineer
    Office of Local Assistance
    California Department of Transportation, District 7
    100 S. Main Street
    Los Angeles, CA 90012
    telephone (213) 897-2934

  9. Darla Castleberry

    We rode The Crest on the last weekend of September on a recon mission for a group ride we were putting together, at that time some of the chip seal had been done. Last Sunday however… WOW, we were shocked at the road conditions, and none of the 30 plus bikes were too happy about it. But we had a great ride any way, well mostly. It sure did slow down the crotch rockets though! Great article, linking to my own.

  10. Joe

    Nope, still not fixed as of last weekend, and there’s still an OBSCENE amount of loose rock hanging around. I tried to turn my motorcycle off ACH onto Big Pines just outside of Wrightwood but the loose rock on the smooth pavement in the intersection wasn’t having it. Hooray for lowsides :(

  11. Pingback: Riding the Angeles Crest Hwy | Stories, Lies & Biker Dives

  12. Wido

    Hi all,

    I’m in LA end of June for a conference and I was thinking about riding the angeles crest highway. Any progress on the repairs? Are they done? I’m from Europe (The Netherlands) and I don’t have a clue :-).



  13. JoeyC

    Rode today from La Canada to Red Box. Angeles Forest Highway has been chip sealed from Clear Creek to beyond Red Box. Yes, it’s ruined. The descent is now very hazardous.

  14. AJ

    Rode ACH from Glenola to Wilson on 8/17/13. What a mess! From just before 2nd Ranger Station to Redbox, it sucks and on the way down, it has become a dangerous decent and it rattles your bike apart, hands and feet were numb within minutes. I will not be riding ACH anymore, and I love that ride!

    Thanks Cal Trans!

  15. Roman

    My fiancee and I rode up this morning from La Crescenta up to Mt. Wilson. The chipseal has been extended all the way down to the gate where La Crescenta ends and the forest begins. Riding to Mt. Wilson means riding up on ~13 miles of chipseal and descending on it again later (which felt dangerous).

    It was horrible.

  16. Richard Feuille

    A friend and I rode from Pasadena to the top of Mt Disappointment, yesterday. We knew it would be ugly because last week the same ‘chipseal’ had been ‘installed’ (my friend calls in vandalism) north of Clear Creek (The Angeles Forest juntion). I rode my Salsa Fargo (with 2.25 Race Kings) and he his old mountain bike with his commuter tires. The bigger tires helped, but the dirt on the shoulder was more pleasant than this new stuff. The cracked up Mount Wilson Road was much more pleasant than the 2, and other than dodging rocks, the Mt Disappointment road was noticeably smoother. The old pavement was just fine and way better than what was there before 2007 or 2008 when the road was newly repaved before the Station Fire. It had a few cracks. Some could have used a minor repair. I’m looking for some 700x30mm tires for my road bike to use up there. On the other hand, I might just stick with the Fargo.

  17. Tom DuPree

    The entire stretch from Wrightwood to La Crescenta was completed recently. It is by far the coarsest surface I have ever seen applied to a road. I would think is more dangerous for all vehicles because there is a loss of traction because of the decreased surface area that meets the tires. Or perhaps it gives it an additional “bite”. If a bicyclist or motorcyclist w/o leathers goes down it will be VERY much more painful… guaranteed.

    This may have been planned by Caltrans and the CHP to keep sport motorcyclists and cars slowed down and follow the normal travel lanes as opposed to traversing across the whole lane(s) in order to go faster, otherwise softer compound tires will get shredded quickly as mine did when I rode it before the high traveled portion of the lanes got smoothed out.

    Sucks severely for bicyclists. However, they will be safer regarding the number of road racers etc.

  18. Steve Richards

    This new surface is terrible! More rolling resistance makes the ascents tougher and the roughness rattles your teeth out on the way down. And I sure as hell wouldn’t want to crash on this stuff.

  19. Richard Feuille

    I put some Panaracer T-serv PT 700×28 on some old Open Pro wheels. Much better.
    Not as smooth as my Fargo, but at 80# front, and 85# rear, it’s pretty tolerable.

  20. BikingBrian Post author

    At their December meeting, the statewide California Bicycle Advisory Committee (CBAC) will be discussing the pavement study listed above in Bob’s link. I hope the study results aren’t twisted in the same manner as the rumble strip study, in that the rumble strip treatments that were the least harmful to bicyclists were spun as being “liked” by bicyclists.

  21. bob eckhoff

    Went to the meeting on Friday, sigh!!!!. Cal Trans is going to evaluate the test patch proposed for Hwy 1 and if it is deemed ok then they will re-coat Hwy 1. That will give them a cost basis to evaluate doing it on ACH but there are no plans to do that now. Out best bet is to sign this petition and get it in front of the right people.

  22. Paul j

    Update oct 6th. Tried to ride (bike) from La Cresenta to Mt Wison. Couldn’t get past Angeles Forest. Vibration produced ‘pins and needles’ sensation in my hands even using full gloves. One of the best road rides in So Cal has been completely ruined.
    Now we know how Cal Trans REALLY feels about bikes. ‘Share the Road’ -easy when there are no bikes!!!
    Hope they don’t plan any more re-paving ! I and I’m sure many others would gladly take the ‘old pavement’. Sad

  23. Sara

    Runners in this area are tired of having to fend off idiot cyclists who fail to yield and move out of the way and insist on using their bicycles as weapons. This should help keep the cyclists out of harms way and off of the very dangerous and slide prone highway 2.

  24. bob eckhoff

    Heard from Dale Benson today asking to participate in a test ride of a sand seal fix for AC. It aint done yet. Lets really try to get this fixed.

  25. Rene

    Sara, what kind of idiots are running on a highway designed for vehicles (and bikes). Bicycles rightfully travel on a highway and if you had any sense, at speed they don’t stop on a dime. If you’re referring to mtb and trail running, then you’re on the wrong blog.

    It would be great to see some action fixing the chip seal problem on AC.

  26. Mark Rich

    Thanks Bob for your efforts.

    I contacted Dale via email asking to participate with this project. I have been actively involved with the City of Pasadena, PPD, RBOC and the Rose Bowl Historic Ride Committee. Additionally, myself, Tim Brick and the late Dennis Crowley were very active back in the 80’s working with the City of Pasadena making the Rose Bowl a more user friendly and “safe” area to exercise.

    I have been riding Angeles Crest Hwy (2) since 1968….both motorcycles AND bicycles the past 30 years. I’m really trying to understand what the “root” cause was when this aggregrate was laid down. Additionally, Angles Forest Hwy is in dire need of resurfacing and this perplexes me a great deal.

    Regardless, I want to take a pro-active approach in resolving this dangerous problem as soon as possible. One concern I have for Cal Trans is that they are not sued by someone who is injured because of this new chip seal.

    Thanks again for your help.

  27. Bob Eckhoff

    We met with cal trans yesterday to test ride the test patches over the chip seal. Both seemed ok and much better than what is there now. Good news is that Dale told us the Cal Trans has budgeted to do this regardless of which method they use. Don’t know when but there is hope that it will be soon

  28. Mani Hellmuth

    Hey everyone!

    I’ve left this ride off my list for more than two years now… I still remember the huge disappointment and disbelief that I felt back in 2013ish when I went on a routine ride and discovered what had been done to my all time favorite ride… The ride was never for the faint of heart… I revisited it today for the first time in several years hoping somehow things had changed. They HAVE NOT!!! It still SUCKS!!! The only positive is the chip seal has been slightly worn- more noticeable on the descent and on the tire tracks created by 2+ years of driving. The edges still are horrible! In the old days you could hug the right of the white line with some of the blind corners hoping that the motorcycle you could hear in the distance wasn’t going to catch up with you on the apex… Now that’s virtually impossible, most of the time you can’t even take the white line. I was wishing I could flick off any caltrans driver that drove by- even though I know they aren’t directly responsible… I just wanted to pin my frustrations on someone. I rode through some of the corners seeing the old pavement still visible and wishing they had never put their unskilled hands back on the ACHWY.

    After the long rant…. Does anyone have any updates as to when this issue will be rectified?

    Now having to make the long trek over to the GMR, still very nice, just not nearly as convenient.

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