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Driving The New Stretch Of Highway 1 In Big Sur

Greta Mart @KCBX
A highway sign near Hearst Castle flashed a new message Wednesday after over a year of closure warnings.

Highway 1 reopened to through traffic in Big Sur on Wednesday thanks to a $54-million dollar, quarter mile stretch of roadway. 

It was built on top of the 2017 landslide that sent a mountainside crashing into the Pacific Ocean. Greta Mart from public radio station KCBX was among the first drivers to cross this brand new section of road. 

The rebuilt highway allows tourists from around the world to once again motor through the spectacular scenery from San Luis Obispo County to Big Sur, and allows businesses to cater to those motorists after over a year of drastically thinned crowds.

“We had a line of cars this morning waiting to go through the gate, and then they opened, and they all went through,” Jukes said. “We’ve been waiting for more than a year.”

Ringo Jukes works at the Whale Watcher Cafe in Gorda, a collection of a few restaurants, a gas station and motels perched just north of the Mud Creek slide area.

Caltrans had initially forecasted the highway would reopen in September, then on July 20. But on Tuesday, the state’s transportation department announced contractors were finishing the final striping job earlier than expected, and the road would reopen the next day.

It couldn’t have been soon enough for Jukes.

“I live on the other side of the landslide, so I’m going home after work,” Jukes said. “Five minute drive! It normally takes me five minutes, it would take me about three and a half hours to go all the way around.”

At the Gordo gas station, I spoke to several travelers who just happened to luck out in their timing, when it came to visiting the California coast.

“My name is Sam Mendem, I’m from Fairbanks, Alaska,” Mendem said. “When I came through Morro Bay this morning, they told me the road through Big Sur was open. So I said, gotta do it!”

“So you hadn’t planned on that until today?” I asked.

“I didn’t know it was going to be open. Coming up from Ojai.  I started from Ojai this morning, about 5:30, they said maybe it will be open today, they were hopeful, and it was.”

On a cross-country road trip from Minnesota, Eli Nord and his two friends wanted to see the coast before visiting his aunt in Carmel.

“I wanted to visit her, and she says, ‘I can’t believe that this is the day that you’re coming up here, it’s the first day that it’s open!’” Nord said. “We’re really enjoying the shoreline on the way up.”

But not everybody cruising the new stretch of Highway 1 were from other parts of the world.

Morro Bay resident Jim Easterbrook  stopped in an unfinished turn-out at the Mud Creek slide. Having the day off, he decided to head towards a surf spot at Sand Dollar Beach, north of the slide, and hence, one that’s been cut off from easy access for Easterbrook for over a year. And he came to check out the construction site.

“Look at it, it’s gigantic!” Easterbrook said. “I mean, my gosh, what a deal. The scale is incredible.”

Caltrans is holding a ribbon cutting ceremony to celebrate the $54-million project on Friday morning at 11:00am at the Ragged Point Inn.

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