Environment

Destroyed Section of Highway 1 in Big Sur Could Reopen by Summer

Reconstructed portion of iconic highway should better withstand future debris flows

This aerial photo shows where late January rains washed out a 150-foot section of hillside and the two-lane Highway 1 in Big Sur. Photo courtesy of Caltrans

Major emergency repairs of Highway 1 on the Big Sur coast began Monday.

Colin Jones of Caltrans said heavy rains caused a massive debris flow from the Dolan Fire burn scar and washed out a 150-foot section of roadway on Jan. 28. The gaping bite out of the mountainside and Highway 1 led to a full closure of the highway that sees traffic range from 2,700 cars a day up to around 9,000 cars during the peak of the tourist season. 

Caltrans announced this week that highway repairs at Rat Creek should lead to reopening the curvy and hilly roadway in early summer.

“Highway 1 is an iconic roadway that connects travelers with small businesses on the Central Coast, and we’re focused on restoring travel on this section by early summer,” Caltrans Director Toks Omishakin said in a statement.

Jones said that Caltrans will fill the canyon with dirt in a large V-shape and then construct a new road on top of the fill. The fill option includes replacing the main drainage system at Rat Creek with an oversized main culvert, and several overflow culverts, Jones said.

The reconstructed portion of the highway would increase the capacity of its drainage system, help it withstand future debris flows and enhance the resiliency and sustainability of the highway against rising sea level and coastal erosion, Caltrans said in a press release.

That chunk of highway is 16 miles south of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. While many businesses have been cut off from regular traffic flow and customers, Jones stressed that most of them still remain open.

“The big message is: Big Sur is open,” Jones said. “We really worked with the Big Sur Chamber to get the work going and to help keep all businesses and campgrounds open.”

Drenching rains hammered much of California in late January and dumped up to 15 inches of rain around Big Sur that led to the cave-in.

Estimates for repairs, Caltrans said, will cost $11.5 million, including $5 million in ongoing emergency repairs north of Rat Creek. The contractor is Papich Construction of Arroyo Grande, Jones said.

Crews plan to work seven days a week during daylight hours, with longer shifts possible as the project moves ahead. The work order includes the manipulation of tens of thousands of cubic yards of material, Jones said. More rain could add delays.

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