It’s been more than three decades since Mother Nature took such a massive toll on Highway 1 and reshaped an iconic stretch of California coastline.
Last week’s devastating Mud Creek Slide, about 9 miles north of the Monterey County line, is the latest setback in what’s now predicted to be a yearlong headache for Caltrans. Engineers are in the beginning stages of what is expected to be a lengthy and complex recovery process. It’s unclear when Highway 1 will fully reopen, or if more potential slides could be looming.
Meanwhile, on the north end of Big Sur, work has begun on a new Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge after the old span cracked and started collapsing as the earth shifted below it during heavy winter rains. The bridge is expected to be open in mid- to late September, according to Caltrans.
Here are five things you should know about the Highway 1 closure:
A half-mile segment will remain closed for at least a year
Some of California’s most breathtaking coastal scenery will be off limits for “approximately one year, but perhaps longer,” according to Jim Shivers, a spokesman for Caltrans District 5.
Caltrans is facing a long timeline because not only will crews need to remove Mud Creek Slide’s million tons of rock and dirt from the roadway, they will need to repair Highway 1 itself. There’s also the added variable of next year’s winter rains, which could disrupt cleanup plans, Shivers said.
Crews are using drones and other tools to conduct “aerial reconnaissance” as they formulate a strategy for repairs.
“First, we have to make sure the site is safe enough for us to be present there,” Shivers said.
Believe it or not, overnight camping is still an option
The giant Mud Creek Slide, Paul’s Slide 12 miles farther north and the demolition of Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge have hindered camping options — but some are still available.
Campgrounds are a little harder to reach and less crowded this year, according to Gina Corrales, one of the owners of Parks Management Co., the concessionaire that runs currently open Limekiln State Park, Plaskett Creek Campground and Kirk Creek Campground.
The only access to a section of the famed Big Sur coast that’s stuck between two slides is via Nacimiento-Fergusson Road from Highway 101.
However, the three campgrounds in the cut-off area aren’t large: Corrales said Plaskett Creek has 44 spaces, Limekiln 27 and Kirk Creek, which she said is the most popular, 33. The cost for an overnight stay is $25.
Post Ranch Inn remains open, accessible by helicopter
Post Ranch Inn is offering well-to-do visitors a personalized helicopter shuttle service called “Escape Through The Skies.”
Prices range from $4,300 to $13,500. Post Ranch Inn will transport two people via helicopter from the Del Monte Aviation’s tarmac at Monterey Regional Airport for two or more nights in May and June.
The cost includes a daily four-course dinner for two at Post Ranch Inn’s Sierra Mar, guided nature walks, garden tours, stargazing, yoga classes and more.
It’s part of a $1 billion problem (that’s a record)
The latest landslide to hit the California coast will add to an estimated $1 billion in highway damage in the state this year, and one of the wettest winters in decades played a key part.
“It’s one of a kind,” Susana Cruz, spokeswoman with the California Department of Transportation, told the Associated Press last week.
Though the excess rain and snow broke the state’s five-year drought, it also caused flooding, landslides and increased coastal erosion.
More than 400 sites have reportedly been damaged during the fiscal year that ends in June, according to the AP story. The $1 billion in highway damage is a significant increase from last year’s total of $660,000 million.
We’ve been here before
Before last week, the 1983 slide that buried Highway 1 near Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park under an estimated 2.7 million cubic yards of earth had been considered the worst-case scenario.
The Mud Creek Slide poses a potentially larger threat and is believed to be worse than anything that occurred during the El Niño year in 1997.
Crews have been able to repair the beloved stretch of coastal highway before, but this appears to be the largest undertaking to date.
The Mud Creek Slide — actually a series of five slides — created an new coastline with a peninsula that extends an estimated 1,500 feet out into the ocean.
Tribune staff writer Lindsey Holden and Cambrian editor Stephen H. Provost contributed to this report.
By the numbers: Highway 1 closure
1 million — tons of earth currently burying Highway 1
5 — estimated length, in football fields, of the Mud Creek Slide
1,500 — feet the reshaped peninsula extends into the coastline
400 — sites in California with highway damage this fiscal year
1983 — the last time a mudslide of similar magnitude hit the Big Sur coast
14 — months it took to clear Highway 1 after the 1983 slide