California’s Highway 1 road conditions will only get riskier, experts say – the Guardian

Failure on Highway 1 on the Big Sur Coast south of the Rocky Creek Bridge (Courtesy of Caltrans District 5, public domain via X).
Failure on Highway 1 on the Big Sur Coast south of the Rocky Creek Bridge (Courtesy of Caltrans District 5, public domain via X).

Chunk of famed route crumbled into sea causing another closure, and conditions are expected to only worsen with climate crisis

A long stretch of California’s famed Highway 1 is closed yet again after a large chunk of the scenic route lining the central coast in Big Sur crumbled into the sea on Saturday. The slide, which occurred just south of the Rocky Creek Bridge, is the latest challenge along the winding roadway, which is facing surges in both popularity and peril.

Caught between rising tides and crumbling cliff sides, conditions are becoming more extreme as the climate crisis exacerbates the issues. No one has been injured this week, according to officials – but the risks of travelling this road are only going to grow.

“We have been lucky,” said Dr Gary Griggs, a coastal erosion expert at University of California, Santa Cruz, of the safety record along the most rugged stretches of this road. Fast-moving debris flows and the underground churn that chews through the concrete can cause fatalities if cars are caught in the erosion. “Almost a century since it was built and it has been slide after slide after slide,” he added. “Nothing is ever going to change that, and, with these climate change indicators, it will probably get worse.”

Built in the 1930s, it’s rumored the highway has never been fully operational from north to south for more than a year since its inauguration. The most recent slide adds to three others to the south that have kept the picturesque thoroughfare between San Francisco and Los Angeles closed for more than a year.

With more wet weather in the forecast and crews unable to access the slide from the south, it is unclear at this point when the route will be accessible again. “This is a critical stretch of highway,” said Kevin Drabinski, a spokesperson with California’s department of transportation, noting that locals rely on the route for emergency response and resources. CalTrans engineers were on site on Monday morning assessing the gaping bite missing from the roadway, as officials helped guide thousands of stranded tourists and residents as they crept slowly past the precarious spot…

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