Highway 1 closed north of Cambria after washout

Daily life in coastal communities, from getting mail to going to school, is seriously altered

ktanner@thetribunenews.comMarch 18, 2011 

The iconic Highway 1 drive along the spectacular Big Sur coast will be a long cul-de-sac accessible only from the south end for at least a month after a big chunk of roadway crumpled into the sea about 85 miles north of Cambria.

The busy road between San Luis Obispo and Monterey counties will be closed through most or all of the spring break tourist period because a 40-foot-long patch of pavement at Rocky Point slithered down a steep hillside shortly after 5 p.m. Wednesday.

Caltrans closed about 2 miles of the road south of Garrapata State Park, from Bixby Creek Bridge to Palo Colorado Road, and posted signs warning motorists about the washout.

There were no reports of injuries.

Area businesses remain open, as are Hearst Castle and other state parks. But when visitors can’t drive through from Cambria to Carmel, some fear it could be a big blow to businesses’ bottom lines in this already fragile economy.

Caltrans crews on Friday were assessing the “severe damage” to determine how to fix the road and estimate how long that will take, agency spokeswoman Susana Cruz said.

She said an emergency contractor was to have begun working on a temporary fix as early as Friday evening.

The road is closed to all, including pedestrians, bicyclists and emergency vehicles. Alternate routes include Highways 101, 68 and 46.

Big Sur-prise? Not really

Nick Franco, district superintendent for State Parks from Montaña de Oro, south of Los Osos, to Limekiln, on the Big Sur south coast, said Thursday that the road closure “is neither unexpected nor unusual.”

“It’s something that happens fairly often” in various locations during rainy seasons, he noted. “It’s still difficult and still a pain, but we deal with it regularly enough so we know what to do.”

Franco’s counterpart to the north, Matt Fuzie, called him early Thursday. “Your district just grew and mine shrank,” Fuzie said, because Franco will assume temporary command of parks cut off from the Monterey district, including several popular state parks in the heart of Big Sur.

Artist and blacksmith Peter Fels lives near Ragged Point on the southern end of the Big Sur area. He said, “It’s very steep around here and there isn’t much hard rock. Wet stuff wants to go downhill. ... There is the seasonal anxiety that the bit (of land) one is on will decide to obey the law of gravity.”

Fels and his artist wife, Phoebe Palmer, stay ready.

“We have stores of food and firewood. ... It’s expected that we’ll be cut off sometimes. One hopes that we only get cut off on one side at a time.”

During long closures, such as the 13-monther in 1983-84, some students moved to Cambria or Monterey, at least during the week, in order to keep up their studies.

Traffic increased drastically on the steep, winding Nacimiento-Fergusson Road over the hill to Fort Hunter Liggett and King City in southern Monterey County.

For now, the Big Sur post office’s only employee must drive to King City via Cambria early each morning, then immediately drive back to deliver the mail to Big Sur.

Because of the daily trip, the Big Sur post office will be open only from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., rather than the usual 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Big Sur students who live south of the slide but go to school in Carmel can bunk with volunteer families for several days at a time, and the Carmel Unified School District provides transportation to take the young people back home for the weekend, according to Paul Behan, spokesman for the school district.

The Big Sur Health Center is advising residents affected by the slide to stock up by mail on prescription medications, rather than face a not-so-quick trip to the drugstore.

Resilient Big Sur residents tend to become used to all this. As Kathleen Novoa, Big Sur’s cyber town crier at http://bigsurkate.wordpress.com, wrote in her blog Thursday morning, “We will Sur-vive. We always do.”

Road updates

For updates on Big Sur roadwork, call 888-836-0866 or go to www.dot.ca.gov/dist05/projects.

Call 800-427-7623 for statewide updates.

The Tribune is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service