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Just in time for summer, Big Sur highway reopens

By CHRIS COUNTS

Published: June 10, 2011

A SECTION of Highway 1 in Big Sur that had been closed by a massive rock slide April 14 reopened Thursday afternoon.

That means the entire 90-mile span of Highway 1 between Carmel and San Simeon is open for the first time since March 16, when a section of pavement near the Rocky Creek Bridge collapsed.

For Big Sur businesses, the reopening of the road is a cause for celebration, as the number of visitors slowed to a trickle while the world-famous scenic highway was closed.

“The road closures this spring clearly illustrate the importance of Highway 1 through Big Sur to the economies of both Monterey and San Luis Obispo counties,” explained Stan Russell, executive director of the Big Sur Chamber of Commerce.

Officials at the California Department of Transportation are also thrilled to see the scenic route south of Big Sur reopened. Caltrans spokeswoman Susana Cruz praised the project’s contractor, Winsor Construction, as well as Caltrans workers, for getting the road open ahead of the estimated June 15 completion date.

“They worked really hard,” said Cruz of the effort. “They worked on weekends, and they worked in the rain. It’s been a couple months of really hard and dangerous work. The workers deserve a lot of credit.”

In the end, the project will have cost taxpayers an estimated $4 million. Over the past two months, workers moved about 130,000 cubic yards of rock and debris — or 286,000 tons. To help accomplish it, helicopters transported heavy equipment as much as 500 feet above the highway, where workers pushed the rock and debris downhill.

The dangerous nature of the work was highlighted May 12, when two Caltrans workers were injured by falling rocks. One worker, who suffered a broken arm, was briefly hospitalized, while another received stitches.

The effort to clear the slide received an unexpected assist April 26 when the California Coastal Commission issued an emergency permit allowing workers to push a large portion of the debris directly over the ledge instead of trucking it to disposal sites as far as four miles away.

The troublesome section of highway near Rocky Creek Bridge, meanwhile, was reopened to one-way traffic April 20 and is now controlled by a traffic signal. Motorists traveling between Carmel and Big Sur can expect very brief delays. A long-term solution is likely years — and tens of millions of dollars — away.