The powerful storm that caused outages, flooding and mudflows also washed out part of Highway 1 along the Big Sur coast. Caltrans crews and emergency contractors are now assessing the damage.
The highway washed out near Rat Creek, about 15 miles south of the town of Big Sur. This particular area is within the burn scar of the Dolan Fire, making it vulnerable to debris flows. So, ahead of this week’s storm, the highway was closed for safety from just south of Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn in Monterey County to Ragged Point in San Luis Obispo County.
The road didn’t wash away all at once. On Thursday, in the thick of the storm, debris and water came down the hillside overwhelming the culvert.
“That continued movement of water and debris eroded the lanes little by little back towards the hillside, eventually destroying both lanes of the highway,” said Kevin Drabinski with Caltrans District 5.
On Friday, we woke up to photographs of a chunk of the two lane highway missing. Drone video provided an aerial view of the damage.
Caltrans crews immediately began assessing the damage, securing a $5 million emergency contract. The question everyone wants to know is how long will it take to fix this? Drabinski said it’s too early to tell but one thing’s for sure -- the repair will require a tremendous engineering effort.
“It's a national treasure,” he said. “It's very dramatic to lose this section of road. It will require a lot of really hard work to get it reopened. But we're committed to doing that for our locals, their businesses and the traveling public.”
Like many locals, Kate Novoa is always prepared for an emergency. She covers the Big Sur area in her blog Big Sur Kate and has been proving updates about what happened.
“Everybody that lives where I live is incredibly self-sufficient,” said Novoa on Friday. “And I’ve never met a community that is as strong and as helpful.”
With area businesses already suffering from COVID-19 impacts, Novoa says this will be another hardship. But this isn’t the first, nor the last.
“During the winter in Big Sur, it's not a question of if the highway is going to close. The question becomes when it's going to close, where it's going to close and for how long,” she said.
Part of Highway 1 washed out from a massive landslide in May of 2017. That took over a year to repair.