When part of California’s scenic Highway 1 along Big Sur was washed out last January, initial plans called for repairs to be finished this summer. The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) has now announced that work is proceeding ahead of plan — and the stretch of highway will reopen by April 30.
“Reopening Highway 1 at Rat Creek just three months after a washout of this magnitude is great news for residents, recreationists, business owners, and those who move goods through this region,” Caltrans Director Toks Omishakin said in a statement. “Caltrans has been focused on the emergency work needed to increase the resiliency of this highway section to extreme weather, and the fixes made will allow for safe travel.”
A Scenic Highway
California’s Highway 1 is one of the most famous highways in the U.S. Stretching more than 650 miles, it not only is the longest highway in California, it is a major thoroughfare for Los Angeles and San Francisco.
A roughly 70-mile stretch through the Big Sur region is well-known because the highway hugs the coast and offers spectacular views of the ocean and cliffs simultaneously. It even passes through a redwood forest.
Because the road is cliffside, it is subject to mudslides. That is exactly what happened in January.
Indeed, heavy rain triggered a landslide on January 28 that carried part of the cliff and a section of the highway into the ocean. As a result, a 150-foot section of the highway was washed out — closing the highway.
At the time, Caltrans expected that major work wouldn’t begin until March. That plan called for work to continue through the spring — until the road could be reopened in the summer.
Kevin Drabinski, a Caltrans spokesman, explains in a San Luis Obispo Tribune article that the department’s original plan was based on “previous experience and science.” After such a serious storm in January, the department has to expect more rain, and then plan accordingly, he said.
The weather this year, however, turned out to be drier than was expected. Consequently, crews have been able to work “seven days a week during daylight hours to fill the canyon with compacted dirt to the road level,” according to Caltrans. The base of the new road will be finished over the next two weeks — and then it will be paved and striped.
“Our crews have worked to create a safe road in challenging conditions, and we are excited to reopen this lifeline earlier than expected,” Caltrans District 5 Director Tim Gubbins said in a statement.
A Plan For The Future
Although the section of Highway 1 near Rat Creek will reopen soon, construction work, which requires intermittent traffic control, will continue so Caltrans can install a 10-foot diameter culvert and drainage system to remove water during storms and make the highway “more resilient to extreme weather activity,” Caltrans explains. After that, the department will begin installing permanent guardrails.
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