Stressing they’re exhausted trying to land funding to build much-needed bridges, local officials ask for public pressure

It could be two months before North Indian Canyon Drive is back open, city staff said Thursday. And even the simplest of solutions to frequent closures will take much longer.
Palm Springs City Manager Scott Stiles speaks to the media late Thursday morning at the site of a washed out and damaged portion of North Indian Canyon Road. Behind him are multiple other Coachella Valley public officials and elected leaders.

As if right on cue, a wayward motorist arrived at the exact time and place local officials and city staff were gathering to host a news conference Thursday morning and promptly found his vehicle stuck in the mud.

The dignitaries had gathered near the washed out — and very much closed — portion of North Indian Canyon Drive to speak not only about damage the road suffered during Tropical Storm Hilary, but to address looming questions about why no bridge is in place there. The driver claimed there were no barriers where he entered two miles away, but later said there were gaps in the barriers so he chose to drive through.

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Hence, a perfect metaphor played out: Coachella Valley leaders looked on in amazement as the Porsche’s wheels spun fruitlessly. They then spoke about the fact that no matter how hard they try, they’re having trouble getting people, particularly those at higher levels of government, to listen to them.

In recent months they’ve turned their attention to making their case in Sacramento. They’re asking for $50 million in state grant money to help fund a $75 million “plan B” — a pre-fabricated bridge that can be installed over the portion of the road that is the subject to frequent closure due to wind events and flooding.

Plan B is in place following decades of lobbying for state and federal funds to construct Plan A — a bridge above the desert floor spanning the entire two-mile stretch from the train station (just south of Garnet Avenue) to the Miralon development (Sunrise Parkway).

There has been little hope for securing $250 million for the two-mile bridge. But there is some hope the state will award the $50 million for the pre-fabricated bridge when a decision is announced in November.

The public played a key role in lobbying for the funds earlier this summer when the Coachella Valley Association of Governments (CVAG) put out the call to complete a survey sent to those making decisions in the state capital. Those who spoke Thursday asked for additional pressure in the form of calls, emails, and letters to state leaders and their local representatives.

Palm Springs City Councilmember Christy Holstege shoots video of the damage to North Indian Canyon Drive on Thursday following a news conference. At right is a vehicle that became stuck in the mud shortly before the news conference after the driver ignored barriers and “Road Closed” signs.

CVAG is also keeping the pressure up. A two-page letter stressing the need for funding, signed by Palm Springs Mayor Grace Garner, Councilmember Lisa Middleton, and Desert Hot Springs Mayor Scott Matas, was sent to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office (read the letter here). The letter follows a visit by Newsom as storm preparation was underway this past weekend.

“A picture is worth a thousand words,” said Palm Springs City Manager Scott Stiles as the man occupying the stuck sports car, along with his wife, waited to be towed out. “We wanted the community to see what we’re up against with this important arterial.”

What the community is up against is yet another wait — perhaps up to two months, it was announced Thursday — for the reopening of a section of road that already closes due to flooding and high wind events for dozens of days each year. Those closures are not just inconvenient, they could lead to life-threatening delays for residents of Desert Hot Springs who need the straightest and quickest path to Desert Regional Hospital.

“It seems like the movie Groundhog Day,” said Matas, who also serves as CVAG’s current chair. “It seems to be getting worse. There seems to be more and more closures. We just keep having to do this.”

Surveying the damage Thursday, Palm Springs Councilmember Christy Holstege acknowledged the frustrations and anger of residents that has been spewing out on social media after Tropical Storm Hilary dumped more than three inches of rain in Palm Springs and forced the closure of multiple crucial paths in and out of the city.

Portions of North Indian Canyon Drive are buried under mud, as seen in this picture from earlier in the week. (Photo: City of Palm Springs)

“I think they’re right to be angry,” said Holstege, who is campaigning for a seat in the California State Assembly. “It has been unacceptable for decades. We proposed a solution. And then we found another solution. It’s going to take public pressure. The anger is valid. It just needs to be channeled.”

For the immediate future, there will be some channeling in Palm Springs. Water and mud is still flowing over North Indian Canyon Drive, keeping city engineers at bay as they wait to complete a more thorough inspection of the damage.

On Thursday, City Engineer Joel Montalvo said it’s not just four feet of mud that needs to be removed before a section of washed-away road can be rebuilt. Crews will also have to replace and repair utility lines that run under the road, including fiberoptic cable now sitting atop the mud, as well as nearby utility poles that can be seen tilted and broken.

That work should cost roughly half a million dollars, Montalvo said, and take up to two months. Still, it’s just a portion of the estimated $126 million in damage that Riverside County officials estimate occurred during the storm just for cleanup and infrastructure repairs, and up to $9 billion in total damage suffered throughout the western US as the storm wreaked havoc over the weekend.

To make matters worse, Montalvo said even if funding is secured for the smaller bridge work, “We can order it, but just the effort to get it into place could take six months to a year. There are a lot of environmental permits needed before we get to the point of putting it in place.”


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