The Cambrian

Highway 1 closure presents many long-term obstacles

Caltrans workers at Paul’s Slide are working on the road failure that has shut down a section of Highway 1.
Caltrans workers at Paul’s Slide are working on the road failure that has shut down a section of Highway 1. Special to The Cambrian

As residents and businesspeople in San Simeon, Cambria and beyond come to grips with an expected long closure of Highway 1 in Monterey County, about 450 people remained essentially trapped in a Big Sur area between the collapsing Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge to the north and landslides to the south.

Caltrans crews and contractors are working toward having “some form of access for resupply (including propane)” for those trapped people by Monday, March 13, according to one of the daily email updates from Susana Cruz, a spokeswoman for the agency.

On March 3, the Monterey County Office of Emergency Services airlifted in fresh food, pet supplies, diesel fuel and other essentials to the trapped residents, and officials have been trying since to find a way to bring propane to the area.

»» RELATED: In-depth report: Hwy. 1 closures, Big Sur bridge failure taking a toll on tourism

Cruz wrote that “drilling continues, and Caltrans geotechnical and bridge experts from around the state are working as quickly as possible toward the bridge replacement. Drilling investigation findings are targeted for Friday, March 17.

“On the maintenance side, our goal is to make progress with the slides to regain as much access from the south as possible. We are also working to keep the roadway passable from the north (Carmel) to just north of the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge — for locals only.”

From the south, again for locals only, daytime travel was allowed that day by truck, SUV or van about 20 miles north of Ragged Point, to the Limekiln Creek Bridge.

Conditions changed daily, or sometimes even more often.

Meanwhile, reconstruction of the seriously storm-damaged Nacimiento-Fergusson Road, considered the “back door out” from Big Sur, has been proceeding since Feb. 27.


Among those who are cut off are a dozen monks at the New Camaldoli Hermitage. The entrance road to the hermitage is so badly damaged, the monks and their supporters had to start a fundraising effort at to help raise the money to make repairs and replace income lost because the facility hasn’t been able to accommodate visitors, who usually visit for an hour or so or stay for a couple of days or a couple of weeks.

As of 3 p.m. Wednesday, March 8, more than 1,250 people had donated $198,360 toward the $300,000 goal.


Cruz warns daily by email about the dimensions of the full closure on the highway, which encompasses more than 60 miles from Ragged Point at the northern edge of San Luis Obispo County to just south of Palo Colorado at post mile 61.5.

The Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge, about 45 miles into Monterey County on the scenic highway, was so severely damaged in the consecutive onslaught of torrential rainstorms that nobody is allowed within 100 feet of either side. Gradually, gravity and sluicing earth beneath the cracking bridge are taking their toll.

Cruz said “due to extreme safety concerns and the bridge’s dynamic instability, everyone needs to stay clear.” She added firmly that “this closure will be enforced,” and Kate Novoa, known affectionately as BigSur Kate on her blog, warned nonresidents that “If you are a visitor, they are checking IDs, so please do not try it.”

Meanwhile, community volunteers are to start work soon, perhaps as early as Thursday, March 9, on a foot trail around the bridge.

Temporary bridge?

As Novoa said in a text interview Tuesday, “We know that Big Sur being cut in half is difficult on our neighbors, like Cambria. All we can offer, for those who remember, is this is like the big slide of ’83 that took 14 months to repair.”

Novoa advised that the prolonged closure, “will be hard financially, but it was hard financially when we moved here from the cities in the first place.”

In those areas to the south, business leaders are working with Caltrans in hopes of finding some way to bridge the north-to-south gap sooner, preferably before the summer season begins.

Mel McColloch, longtime president of the Cambria Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, is one who’s leading that charge.

He said in a March 2 email that he’s pushing for installation of “a temporary bridge across the canyon.” He said his Caltrans contact told him that the agency’s engineers “are investigating that possibility,” which McColloch said he believes “would get the highway open by summer rather than 10 months from now. I know the U.S. Army could put in a temporary bridge.”

He’s also suggested a dirt crossing across the canyon.

Caltrans spokesman Jim Shivers said in a phone-email interview Tuesday that “I’m not aware of any plans to install a temporary structure until a new one is built. There would be much work to do to install such a facility, which could impact our effort to promptly rebuild a new bridge. This would include earthwork and the migration of utility lines.”

Hearst Castle

One of San Luis Obispo County’s commerce bellwethers along the coast is attendance at Hearst Castle State Historic Monument.

Dan Falat, superintendent of the State Parks district that includes the Castle, said on Tuesday that attendance is “maybe a little bit down,” although he didn’t have specific figures handy.

He said so many factors affect attendance, it’s difficult to judge what the trigger was for any specific reduction in visitation. “Is it because of the weather, because of the closure of the highway, because of the time of year? Our bookings are still fairly active,” he said, thanks in part to such websites as Tripadvisor and social media pages.

Falat estimated that ticket sales dropped about 35 percent for the Presidents Day weekend but said that extreme drop was because “we were closed for two days” and the stormy weather was downright ugly.

The extended spring break period, which has replaced the classical Easter week vacation period, also makes it complicated to compare stats year to year, he said, as does the fact that Easter isn’t celebrated on the same day of the year, but moves around each year to different Sundays in March and April.

Various state parks and trails in the road-closure area also remain closed.

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