New Bridge Reconnects Big Sur Community

Oct 12, 2017

A long-awaited ribbon cutting tomorrow will mark the opening of the new Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge. The bridge on Highway 1 in Big Sur has been closed for eight months after winter storms damaged it beyond repair. This literally divided the community.  

Bob Riggins of MNS Engineers has been inspecting the bridge for Caltrans. Just days before the reopening, he stands in the middle of the freshly-cured deck looking out at the surrounding redwood trees. He’s taking a moment to appreciate the finished product.  

“It’s kind of strange just to be able to walk across the bridge and go to the other side now,” says Riggins.

He’s been working on the project from the very beginning. Like the rest of the crew here, that’s meant months of long days and working holidays and weekends.

“We realized it was a hardship for the community, the businesses and we wanted to put our best foot forward and show everybody that we could get this done as quickly as possible,” Riggins says.

And they did. Caltrans says this is the fastest time a bridge of this size has been built in California. Normally a project like this would take 7 to 10 years.  

When it re-opens Friday, life in Big Sur will begin to return to normal. No longer will people have to hike a steep bypass trail to get to work or town.

“It hit me for the first time today when I was walking up and racing to get to work that yes I am very excited to not have to hike anymore,” Big Sur resident Courtney Hitchcock says.

The same goes for school kids. Their bus service resumes Monday. And Big Sur businesses will be back in the game.

Nepenthe is one of the few businesses that stayed open during much of the bridge rebuild. But business has been slow. General Manager Kirk Gafill says the staff is excited to welcome back a normal level of guests.

“And we’re used to operating at very busy levels so this is a much more natural experience we’re moving into. We’re a little rusty at it admittedly because it’s been some time, but, you know, we have a really veteran staff,” Gafill says.

Some businesses are reopening for the first time in eight months.  Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn will fully reopen this weekend. And Ventana will reopen on October 20.  Other places are still closed, like Coast Gallery and Pfeiffer Beach. Both endured a lot of storm damage this winter.

While Gafill says the new bridge will greatly benefit Big Sur businesses, it will also reconnect the community. He says being able to socialize with neighbors has been difficult.

“It will be come and go whenever you like and I think that’s just going to lift a big weight off everyone’s shoulders,” Gafill says.

Back at the bridge, inspector Bob Riggins is looking forward to having some free time now that the project is nearly done. The first thing he’s going to do with it is get on his motorcycle and ride down Highway 1 with friends and family.

“We’re going to visit some of the businesses, eat lunch. I know they could probably use the business and we’re going to enjoy as much as we can of Highway 1,” Riggins says.

They won’t be able to drive all the down the coast to Cambria. About 40 miles south of the bridge, crews are working to build a road over a massive landslide. That is expected to be complete by late summer 2018.