While most recent public attention to Highway 1 between Ragged Point and Big Sur has been focused on the demolished Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge being replaced 45.5 miles north of the Monterey County line, another major area of concern is keeping the highway closed farther south.
It’s the ironically named Mud Creek area about 9 miles north of the county line.
Caltrans spokeswoman Susana Cruz said Monday, May 8, the coastal highway remains closed in both directions there, in part because a section of the highway simply isn’t there anymore.
Consequently, travelers heading north can only go as far as Ragged Point. Some hardy souls can get to a short, middle section of Highway 1 via Highway 101 and Nacimiento-Fergusson Road, and southbound travelers can drive to just north of the bridge replacement site.
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The soggy, rocky-laden, slippery Mud Creek hillside above the half-mile stretch of highway began burying the area in December. It slid again in January and has continued doing so since then, eventually causing the pavement to buckle, shift and/or disappear.
“Mud Creek has three major issues,” Cruz wrote in an email notification to residents, “a partial lane (is) missing, the slope/roadway is at an angle, and significant slide material is still coming down.”
The continuing slides and rockfalls make research and repair efforts more dangerous, complicating the cleanup and demolishing the initial projected dates when that section of highway might reopen to general traffic.
Caltrans isn’t even estimating an opening date for the Mud Creek area, Cruz said on Tuesday, May 9, because likelihood is slim that they’ll be able to meet the original June target date.
Some longtime Big Sur residents and others gloomily predict that the Pfeiffer Bridge will reopen before the Mud Creek area will. The estimated reopening for the bridge is sometime in September.
After support pillars for the circa-1967 Pfeiffer Bridge were undermined by landslides in January and February, crews demolished the structure in mid-March.
The new $24 million bridge will be rolled into place 320 feet above the canyon. Cruz was to have gone to Mare Island in Vallejo on May 10 and 11 to check progress on the bridge’s girders, which are being built at the former Navy shipyard there.
Mel McColloch, president of the Cambria Chamber of Commerce, has been pushing Caltrans to get the coastal highway reopened as soon as possible. The closure has affected businesses and their employees, especially from Ragged Point to Big Sur, but also as far south as Cambria and beyond.
McColloch’s previous hope for a temporary bridge at Pfeiffer Creek was dashed during an April 17 tour he took of the Pfeiffer Canyon area, but he continues to push for a quick reopening of as much of the highway as possible.
The chamber president took another tour Monday, May 8, this time of the Mud Creek area.
The news he brought back wasn’t encouraging.
“Caltrans, their engineers and geologists have a tremendous task ahead of them,” he said of the Mud Creek slide, “which seems to be the whole side of a mountain. … As we were there, the mountain is still sloughing off, with rocks as big as a full-sized SUV continuing to fall. … It will be a real task for them to get that road open again.”
A few nights before McColloch’s tour, “a portion of the road started cracking,” he said the supervisor had told him, “and there are pools of water flowing under the road … he told me if they put heavy equipment on it right now, it could break off into the ocean” carrying the machinery and the operator with it, “so they’re not allowing any traffic on it at all” for now and the foreseeable future.
“I can’t praise Caltrans enough” for their efforts to fix the road as quickly and safely as possible, McColloch said. “But I came home thinking the bridge may be ready before this is.”