The Cambrian

Highway 1 no longer in danger of falling into the sea at Piedras Blancas

The just-opened section of Highway 1 north of Piedras Blancas Light Station is 475 feet farther inland, shielding the road and traffic from the ocean waves and erosion.
The just-opened section of Highway 1 north of Piedras Blancas Light Station is 475 feet farther inland, shielding the road and traffic from the ocean waves and erosion.

The news is getting better along Highway 1, where a major realignment project is complete north of San Simeon and progress is being made toward the replacement of the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge in Big Sur.

The new section of Highway 1, about 475 feet inland from the old alignment, is open to traffic without restrictions, Caltrans said. The 2.8-mile stretch of road crosses three new bridges and moves traffic away from the coast, where waves often pounded the bluffs at high tide.

“There were times when waves would spill over onto the highway itself,” said Jim Shivers, public information officer for Caltrans District 5.

The realignment runs from just north of the Piedras Blancas Light Station in the south to north of the Arroyo de la Cruz Bridge. It adds 76 acres of private lands to public ownership and creates  3½ miles of new California Coastal Trail.

Shivers said the new bridges were built over three culverts to “allow us to avoid the streams and wetland areas,” adding that the highway was moved far enough inland to shield it from the ocean for decades to come.

“We have certainly bought a fair amount of time,” he said Thursday. “At the rate of erosion, this will serve the public for many years to come.”

The new section of highway features 12-foot lanes and 8-foot shoulders.

This project went very smoothly and almost quietly, given all the other things that are happening on Highway 1 this year.

Jim Shivers, Caltrans District 5 public information officer

Papich Construction of Grover Beach is the contractor for the $19.7 million project, which now moves on to the next phase. The work ahead involves “breaking down the (old) roadway — demolishing the roadway — removing the asphalt and brining that area in such a way that it matches the existing terrain,” Shivers said.

He said destruction of the old alignment is on schedule to be done by spring, with a three-year period to establish shrubs and other plants in that area to follow.

“This project went very smoothly and almost quietly, given all the other things that are happening on Highway 1 this year,” Shivers said Thursday.

Caltrans engineer explain the "monumental" Mud Creek Slide that displaced 75 acres of land, burying Highway 1, and created 15 acres of new California coastline. Here's what they saw leading up to the landslide that collapsed in May 2017.

Damage update

Those other things include the Mud Creek Slide, Paul’s Slide and destruction of the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge following an extremely wet winter that destabilized hillsides between San Simeon and Big Sur.

The highway remains closed south of Gorda following the massive Mud Creek Slide in May, but progress continues toward reopening the road in Big Sur with the replacement of the Pfeiffer bridge. The old bridge was demolished in March after pillars began to crack and pavement started sagging as the saturated ground shifted beneath it.

Girders for the new span crossed the 300-foot canyon late last month and were being lowered into their final position this week, Caltrans District 5 Public Information Officer Susana Cruz wrote in a news release. Rebar and decking are being delivered to the site, 45 miles north of the Monterey County line, and Cruz said Caltrans hopes to have a firmer completion schedule set by next week.

Elsewhere, Paul’s Slide, 21 miles north of the Monterey County line, remains active, but the road there is open to one-way reversing traffic. Flaggers are being replaced by a traffic signal and temporary guardrail in the center line, with that work expected to be done next week, Cruz said.

The 35-mile stretch of Highway 1 between Gorda and Pfeiffer Canyon continues to be accessible only from inland via Nacimiento-Fergusson Road. Local businesses are open on both sides of the closure points at Pfeiffer Canyon and Salmon Creek.

This timelapse video of Caltrans' work on the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge in Big Sur shows steel girders being pulled to the edge of the north abutment in preparation for launch across the canyon. The original bridge on Highway 1 was damaged in winter

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