Highway 1 A Big Mess

Written by Neil Farrell

Neil has been a journalist covering the Estero Bay Area for over 27 years. He’s won numerous journalism awards in several different categories over his career.

February 9, 2023

This photo from Caltrans taken shortly after a Jan. 15 landslide at Mill Creek shows the magnitude of the problem in just this one area. As one can see, the roadway’s western edge was obliterated in the landslide. Photo courtesy Caltrans

Hwy 1 through Big Sur remains a big mess with Caltrans crews and contractors tackling multiple areas where landslides block the iconic, scenic highway or the roadway has become unstable and in need of shoring up. 

Here’s a breakdown on Hwy 1 conditions from Caltrans’ Dist. 5 in San Luis Obispo:

• A landslide Jan. 4 at “Polar Star” — located about a mile south of Ragged Point — remains closed while crews repair the landslide and drainage system. As of Estero Bay News’ deadline on Feb. 2, the Polar Star slide was slated to open for a local “resupply convoy” on Friday, Feb. 10, but will remain closed to through traffic.

Caltrans was on schedule to reopen the highway at Polar Star by evening on Sunday, Feb. 12 — weather permitting. But the road is closed once again at Mill Creek (Post Mile 18), where another landslide blocked the highway.

“As work progresses there in the coming weeks,” Caltrans said in its highway update, “Caltrans will be looking for opportunities to allow convoys through at Mill Creek.” 

• The Mill Creek slide (PM 18) has two, “spider” excavators working to remove slide materials from a Jan. 15 slip.

“The steep slope of the slide and the saturated soil,” Caltrans said, “have slowed progress significantly. A third spider excavator is being deployed to assist in slide removal due to the challenging conditions that exist on site. As slope conditions permit, other heavy equipment will be deployed to accelerate debris removal.”

Caltrans said they hope the slide at Mill Creek can be cleared and the road stabilized in about 6 weeks.

• Another slide, at PM 0.8 in Monterey County is also being cleared by crews, who also have to deal with slope instability, therefore once traffic is let past the Mill Creek Slide area, Caltrans plans to put in a traffic light to regulate one way, reversing traffic flow through the area. Crews are working behind K-rails to stabilize the western edges of the roadway. The road here is down to one lane but it is open.

• Caltrans engineers are designing a fix to repair a retaining wall that failed at PM 20.8 in Monterey County, but the road is open here, for now. “It is anticipated,” Caltrans said, “that both lanes of Highway 1 will remain open during construction efforts.” They did not give a date for when that work might happen.

• A huge slide, located at PM 22 in Monterey County and dubbed “Paul’s Slide” — that area also came down in 2017’s big winter — could prove to be a massive problem.

“New assessments,” Caltrans said, “are providing a picture of the scale of the movement of the slope at PM 22. Drone imagery suggests that this winter’s storms created a large landslide within an even larger magnitude slide.”

Caltrans can’t say when the highway at Paul’s Slide will reopen.

• Crews are clearing another small slide at PM 32.6 near Lime Creek. One-way traffic controls are in place.

• Caltrans said it would have the roadway north of Paul’s Slide reopened by last Friday, Feb. 3. So travel between Paul’s Slide (PM 22) and the closure at Lime Creek (PM 32) should be open as of this report. 

However, “Signs at southbound Highway 1 at Lime Creek will alert travelers that the road is closed except for travel by locals,” Caltrans said.

Caltrans explained why it closed Hwy 1 at the Piedras Blancas elephant seal rookery.

“That location was selected as it provides an opportunity for large vehicles to turn around, an opportunity that is largely unavailable north of that location.”

Readers can get updates on road conditions on social media platforms — @CaltransD5 on Twitter; on Facebook at Caltrans Central Coast (District 5); and on Instagram at Caltrans_D5.

Motorists are reminded to drive slowly and cautiously through all construction zones and obey any traffic signals and flagmen they come across. Also, any fines you might get in a construction zone are doubled if you don’t.

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