.Highway 1 in Big Sur Reopens After Debris Flow Washout

The winding and hilly Highway 1 with dramatic views of the rocky Pacific shore of California has reopened after being severed by a powerful storm in January.

Caltrans spokesperson Colin Jones said that Highway 1 at Rat Creek in Monterey County opened one week earlier than previously expected. 

That section of Highway 1, about 16 miles south of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, was completely shut down following the Jan. 28 post-fire debris flow that tore out 150 feet of the roadway of steep and rugged terrain.

Deemed one of the most picturesque highways in the U.S., the two-lane highway, called the Big Sur Coast Highway, sees traffic range from 2,700 cars a day up to around 9,000 cars during the peak of the tourist season.

“Reopening Highway 1 at Rat Creek less than three months after a washout of this magnitude is great news for residents, recreationalists, business owners and those who move goods through this region,” said Caltrans Director Toks Omishakin in a press release. “Caltrans has been focused on the emergency work needed to increase the resiliency of this highway section to extreme weather, and the fixes made will allow for safe travel.”

Caltrans created construction phases for the emergency project to allow for the rapid reopening of the road, even as remaining construction work is being completed. Work to be completed over the next few months include installation of permanent guardrail, construction of headwalls at the culvert inlets, final grading features and placement of erosion control measures on both sides of the roadway.

On deck is the installation of a 10-foot diameter, one-inch thick steel pipe culvert which will pass from the canyon, through the fill below the roadway, and out to the ocean. Caltrans said the pipe will substantially improve water flow capacity during future storms. A 5-foot diameter culvert and two 24-inch culverts have already been installed.

Work crews tore into the project immediately after the washout and worked seven days a week during daylight, making it possible to reopen the highway in 86 days.

About 70,000 cubic yards of debris material, enough to fill roughly 5,000 dump trucks, was removed from the canyon and 45,000 cubic yards of fill dirt, capable of being compacted to support the roadway above, was brought into the canyon.

Estimates for repairs, Caltrans said, will cost $11.5 million, including $5 million in ongoing emergency repairs north of Rat Creek. The contractor is Papich Construction of Arroyo Grande, Jones said.

Strict road closures two miles north and three miles south of Rat Creek on Highway 1 remained in place until noon today.

“It was a wonderful team effort involving the CHP, Caltrans, the contractors and local agencies,” Jones said. “It’s an amazing transformation.”


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Tarmo Hannula
Tarmo Hannula has been the lead photographer with The Pajaronian newspaper in Watsonville since 1997. He also reports on a wide range of topics, including police, fire, environment, schools, the arts and events. A fifth generation Californian, Tarmo was born in the Mother Lode of the Sierra (Columbia) and has lived in Santa Cruz County since the late 1970s. He earned a BA from UC Santa Cruz and has traveled to 33 countries.
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