By Dan Whitcomb
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The main highway route between Southern California and Las Vegas was fully reopened on Wednesday, nearly two days after a bridge fire and collapse forced authorities to shut it down in both directions, backing up traffic for miles.
Southbound lanes of Interstate-15 near the high desert community of Hesperia, some 70 miles northeast of Los Angeles, were reopened overnight after crews cleared away tons of metal and wood from the roadway, officials said.
Traffic resumed on northbound lanes of the freeway, the main artery between Southern California and Las Vegas as well as other destinations in Nevada and Utah, late Tuesday afternoon.
An interchange had been under construction over the four-lane highway when its wooden structure caught fire on Monday afternoon, possibly from a worker using a blow-torch.
No injuries were reported but the closure stranded motorists on either side in miles of backed-up traffic as authorities diverted them onto off-ramps to get around the wreckage.
The bridge was part of a $59 million project that began in January 2013 and was scheduled for completion early next year, and the collapse was likely to cause considerable delays and additional costs.
Officials say the extent of the lost time and money is not yet clear.
According to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, more than one in four people who visit Las Vegas come from Southern California, with an average of 42,000 cars crossing the California-Nevada border on the I-15 each day.
There are few alternatives for drivers traveling across the California desert between the two destinations.
(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by James Dalgleish)