California’s famed Highway 1 collapsed last week. It’s sure to happen again

The Guardian – By Gabrielle Canon – Sat 6 Feb 2021

The iconic coastal road has a history of landslides, and experts say ‘it would not be surprising’ to see them happening more frequently

California’s Highway 1 has been ruptured by a landslide that is expected to keep 23 miles of the iconic road snaking through the state’s rugged coastal cliffs closed for months.

A severe winter rain storm last week caused a 150ft fissure along the picturesque thoroughfare tucked against Big Sur, with concrete, trees and mud falling into the sea below.

It’s not the first time. Landslides have been a longstanding feature of Highway 1. And with climate change and a deluge in tourism and traffic overwhelming both infrastructure and environmental ecosystems in the coastal region, the problems are only expected to get worse.

Highway 1 was deemed California’s first official scenic highway when it opened in 1937. The road stretches across more than 656 miles through the state, but is most known for the sections along California’s central coast, where millions of tourists each year admire the pristine and wild terrain where the mountains meet the Pacific.

It’s rumored the highway has never been fully operational from north to south for more than a year since its inauguration, with the elements that give it its world renown also spelling its doom.

With its steep slopes and diverse geology, the area has always been a site of cliffside churn, said Gary Griggs, a coastal erosion expert at University of California Santa Cruz. “This is not new, and it is not a surprise,” he added.

Caught between rising tides and crumbling cliff sides, maintaining the highway has become somewhat of a sisyphean task. Millions have been poured into the projects, with evidence of past engineering successes and failures etched into the concrete. There are bumps of new asphalt alongside snaking cracks, signs of repair and disrepair, as the process is repeated again and again.

“It all costs money,” Griggs said. “And, well, it is a tough road to repair.”

Griggs was called in to consult in 2017, when the Mud Creek slide covered a quarter-mile of the highway and ceded 15 acres of land to the sea. That rebuild took more than a year to complete, and cost roughly $54m.

Last week’s slide was roughly 165 miles south of San Francisco, and was probably caused by the disastrous environmental combination of a record-breaking fire season followed by big winter storms.

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Posted by Teri Perticone


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