Around-the-clock efforts to clear a mudslide-buried section of Highway 101 in Montecito had no impact on work to rebuild a landslide-damaged section of Highway 1 at Mud Creek north of San Simeon, according to Caltrans officials.
Hundreds of workers toiled 24/7 for nearly two weeks to clear the clogged interstate Highway 101 section that carries so much commercial, commuter and visitor traffic and connects Southern California to coastal areas of Central California and beyond.
Caltrans reopened the stretch at midday on Sunday, Jan. 21, 13 days after the devastating Jan. 9 flash flood and mudslide. The environmental catastrophe wiped out or damaged hundreds of homes, businesses and landmarks and killed at least 21 people.
At the height of the incident, water, mud and debris may have been as much as 12 feet deep on the highway, according to Caltrans spokesman Jim Shivers.
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On Tuesday, work was continuing on ramps leading to and from the newly cleared highway section of about a quarter-mile.
Caltrans spokeswoman Susana Cruz said that the work on Highway 101 hadn’t affected the workforce, equipment or intense pace of the Mud Creek project.
Cruz estimated that there had been 300 personnel and 200 various pieces of equipment working on both jobs, but didn’t break down how many of each were on each project.
Shivers said via email that Granite Construction is the contractor in Montecito, and Madonna Construction is at Mud Creek.
He said “at one point midweek” on the Highway 101 project at Olive Mill Road, “I counted 30 vehicles all doing something,” which “does not include trucks coming and going from disposal sites 24/7.”
He said the current cost estimate for clearing the highway and accesses to it is $11 million. So far, the job has required 1,500 trucks, 350 people and 40 pieces of equipment in 45,000 work hours, Shivers said by phone Wednesday, Jan. 17. Crews removed 105,000 cubic yards of material in 13,000 truckloads over the 12-day period.
At one point, he recalled, there were four loaders working, with each one scraping up and piling mud, rocks and debris into trucks every three minutes.
Work in both locations has been intense, and so has the pressure to get those roadways reopened.
Highway 1 has been closed in various Ragged Point-to-Big Sur locations since December 2016. A damaged bridge to the north has been replaced, but the condition of the Mud Creek area worsened significantly in a May 20 mega-slide. The situation was so severe, crews must relocate and rebuild that section of the All-American Road, a national scenic highway.
At a Jan. 16 installation dinner for the Cambria Chamber of Commerce, chamber President Mel McColloch reported on progress at Mud Creek.
In a Jan. 18 email follow-up to chamber members, McColloch said that as of the day before, “Caltrans geologists found that the minor slide movement caused by last week’s 4-plus inches of rain was not substantial enough to stop work” at the site. Of course, “the geologists will continue to monitor the slide area” during the rainy season.
He wrote that work on the new road alignment is progressing “ahead of schedule.” Work on the sea wall and road-wall revetment “should be completed by the end of January or early February. If January and February continue to be fairly dry and no heavy rains occur, an all-weather road with one-way traffic could be open in early summer. That can be better determined about mid-March, when a more accurate highway opening can be given.”
He estimated at the dinner that while the road closure hasn’t had “a major effect” on Cambria enterprises, it has had “a terrible effect” on San Simeon businesses.
If January and February continue to be fairly dry and no heavy rains occur, an all-weather road with one-way traffic could be open in early summer.
Mel McColloch, Cambria Chamber of Commerce president, on Highway 1 at Mud Creek
Cambria has been helped by annual events that always draw large crowds. The monthlong Scarecrow Festival in October and the Christmas Market from Thanksgiving to Christmas kept traffic hopping downtown, and the Art and Wine Festival is expected to draw hundreds to town Jan. 26-28.
Mary Ann Carson, executive director of the Cambria Chamber of Commerce, said Tuesday, Jan. 23, that sales of general-admission tickets for the Art and Wine Festival were slower than usual during the first three weeks of January, despite expanded marketing efforts. “That might have something to do with the Highway 101 closure,” she said, since many who attend the event come from Southern California.
Now that traffic can get through on Highway 101, “we’re hoping to have sales pick up,” she said, noting that ticket-selling “has been pretty brisk the past couple of days.”
After a slow start to the year, when traffic was exceptionally light in Cambria despite mostly pleasant weather, Carson said the chamber and its members are looking forward to the traditional start of the tourist season at the end of January.