This stretch first opened in 1933, as the highway welcomed traffic in stages down the coast, a hopeful draw for tourists and new agricultural access to the oceanside pastures south of here. In a sign of things to come, parts of the highway had to be closed before the road was entirely open, because of slides.
The work to repair even this 150 feet is monumental. It requires deep engineering expertise just to begin the cleanup process, now taking place in a mud-filled pit on the edge of the cliff. A $5 million emergency contract is paying for the cleanup’s first phase.
Drone surveys and on-the-ground assessments have been conducted. On Thursday, Caltrans announced that it would build a new road, rather than construct a bridge, over a filled-in culvert still surrounded by the threat of loose ground. Parts of the south wall hold the charred trunks and the singed tufts of shrubs from the Dolan Fire, which did not jump across the creek.
The choice of a road, rather than a bridge, will be a less expensive option for Caltrans. It is also a project with a far shorter timeline and could mean, weather permitting, that the road could reopen to at least some traffic as soon as this summer.
On a recent morning, four excavators worked in the pit, their long bucket arms swinging in choreographed tandem, dipping into the bog to scoop out mud and redwood trunks for deposit in a designated pickup spot.
“Do you have the bottom yet?” called out a worker with a chain saw, his job cutting the tree trunks into sections that will fit into the backs of the caravan of dump trucks.
In response, the excavator driver pushed the arm as deep into the mud as he could. It sank and sank, finally hitting something like bottom at about six feet and lifting the front of the excavator off the ground.
The worker with the chain saw shook his head at the digging out left to do.