Historic California roadway reopens after mudslide


CALIFORNIA (NewsNation Now) — The roadway base is back along Highway 1 south of Big Sur less than three months since heavy rains sent a 150-foot section tumbling into the ocean on Jan. 29.

Crews have been working seven days a week amid good weather.

The repairs at Rat Creek involved a lot of debris removal and 30,000 cubic yards of new, compacted soil to fill what washed away.

A bigger culvert and extensive new drainage system will improve water flow during storms.

Wildfires and mudslides weren’t factors when the highway was built so continual updating and anticipating are now required.

“That’s why we fortify our drainage infrastructure before the winter storms to make sure those are clear and can pass the water from the hillside, under the highway, and out to the ocean,” said Cal Trains District 5’s Kevin Drabinski.

Repairing the section of roadway will come at a cost of $11.5 million, a small fix compared to other emergency projects the scenic highway has required since it opened in 1937.

The biggest happened in 2017 not far away and it literally changed the landscape.

The Mud Creek landslide was so massive, fixing it shutdown the highway for a full year.

Coastal geologist Gary Griggs calls the highway situation a geological nightmare. Landslides keep happening due to steep cliffs and unstable rocks and soil and the road itself is a thrill ride in more ways than one.

“We’re driving right along the edge of a continent. Right along a plate boundary. There are not many places in the United States where you can actually do that,” said Griggs.

“We’ve assessed every mile of highway, every tenth of a mile of highway,” said Drabinski.

Caltrans works hard to maintain the scenic stretch with engineers and experts constantly assessing.

“It’s just eternal vigilance on this highway. It lies at the edge of a continent. We’ve got the steep mountains here, the ocean there. And it’s always kind of a struggle navigating, keeping it open,” stated Drabinski.

The latest closure has again hurt many businesses, even up in Carmel, to the north. Stores are seeing fewer visitors coming in from the south.

“Only on the weekends we get a little tick. But most of them are coming from the Bay Area, San Francisco, San Jose. Definitely less foot traffic than usual,” said Jacob Benodiz.

Those who live and work near the highway seem accustomed to the cycle of landslides, closures and repairs.

“So it’s a sort of dilemma. When you decide enough is enough. We can’t do this anymore. Can you build bridges, can you build tunnels. You just can’t afford to do that,” stated Griggs.

“But it’s unique. You just don’t get this picturesque seascape and landscape very many other places,” said Drabinski.

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