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Planned Bridge Closure to Protect Bats Draws Ire From Off-Roaders

State transportation authorities announced they will temporarily close a desert highway heavily trafficked by off-road enthusiasts in the spring, rather than during the hottest summer months, in order

State transportation authorities announced they will temporarily close a desert highway heavily trafficked by off-road enthusiasts in the spring, rather than during the hottest summer months, in order to protect an endangered bat species.

State Route 78 will be shut down for repairs between March 6 and April 30, peak season for dirt bikers eager to ride dunes in the Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreation Area.

Caltrans said it will widen and strengthen the San Felipe Bridge, which is home to an endangered bat species. Federal law prohibits disruption to the bats' habitat from late spring through October.

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The proposed detour to the desert will route off-roaders through the tiny hamlet of Borrego Springs. Outdoor enthusiasts complain it will add an hour to the drive from the coast and create dangerous road conditions by sending motorhomes and trailers loaded with off-road equipment onto a much smaller, steeper county highway.

"The option of going through Borrego Springs means you might never get there," said Roy Denner of the Off-Road Business Association.

The bridge repair project was originally scheduled to begin in November, but Caltrans delayed the closure through the busy holiday desert travel season and then announced last month that the road would remain open during repairs.

That plan would have added $200,000 to the projected $3.7 million repair project, according to Caltrans.