Big Sur – It will take approximately a year and millions of dollars for Caltrans to repair and reopen Highway 1 at Mud Creek in southern Big Sur following the massive landslide Saturday that covers one-third of a mile of the scenic road.
Susana Cruz, a Caltrans spokeswoman, led journalists on tours of the slide Wednesday and Thursday.
“It’s definitely breathtaking, it’s definitely massive,” she said of the landslide caused by millions of tons of dirt and rock tumbling down the coastal hillside.
Officials say the slide created a new 16-acre land mass sticking out from the Big Sur coast.
Highway 1 remains closed at Ragged Point in San Luis Obispo County, just south of the Monterey County border. The highway is closed to the north at Big Sur Station as work continues on Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge. Some Big Sur businesses and parks before the closure are accessible on Highway 1 to travelers who head south from Carmel. Parts of Big Sur are also accessible via Nacimiento-Fergusson Road.
Caltrans says there are five active slides in the area, which is about nine miles north of the county border. Four of the slides gave out at 9:30 p.m. Saturday, causing the event.
“It’s still active,” Cruz said. “There’s still little rocks coming down and you can hear it.”
The slide goes up 1,000 feet from the road deck and debris extends 250 feet beyond the shoreline. Cruz said the slide appears to be slightly larger than the 1983 slide near Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park that kept Highway 1 closed for 13 months.
“This is the biggest that we’ve seen in a long, long time,” Cruz said. “I wouldn’t say the biggest in California, but it’s probably the biggest on the Big Sur coast.”
The slide area that remains is about 1,500 feet long and about 1,000 feet tall. It’s about 40 feet deep.
“That one has not shown activity (Thursday),” Cruz said.
Crews were on site Thursday doing exploratory drilling to conduct soil assessments.
“They drill about 100 feet down and they use the water to lubricate the metal pole,” Cruz said, adding they detected slide material 80 feet down.
Caltrans crews were also installing radar to watch for slide movement, assessing the roadway and using drones and aircraft to assess the slide.
“We can’t really have climbers scaling it because it’s still moving,” Cruz said. “Until that movement seizes, we won’t be able to get up there and see it hands-on.”
Caltrans expects it to take several weeks to compile the data from geologists and other experts assessing the slide and figure out the best solution to rebuild Highway 1.
“They might do like what they did at Alder Creek and put rock netting . they could do a retaining wall, they could do a viaduct like they did with Rocky Creek, they could do a bridge, it all depends what these findings show us and that’s why we’re saying it’s about a year,” Cruz said. “We’re not sure about the cost, but probably several millions (of dollars).”
If crews have to redo the roadway, Cruz said they will have to build a new road deck, stabilize the hillside and clear the debris.
“The roadway is covered a third of a mile, so with all that weight we really feel that what roadway was there is gone,” she said. “But we can’t tell because it’s all covered from down the shore to up the hill.”
Cruz said Caltrans will try to expedite reopening the highway, but safety is the top priority. Caltrans removed crews from Mud Creek before Saturday’s slide after they saw increased activity in the days prior. There were no injuries.
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