Sunday marks one year since massive landslide closed Highway 1

Posted at 10:01 PM, May 18, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-19 01:01:30-04

This Sunday marks one year since a massive landslide wiped out a portion of Highway 1, closing the iconic road to traffic north of San Luis Obispo County.

Since then, crews have been tasked with not only clearing the slide but building a new road. They’ve been working seven days a week, morning till night.

"We’ve never seen a landslide this big in Big Sur or anywhere in California," said Caltrans Project Manager Joe Erwin.

The date was May 20, 2017. John McElgunn lived two miles away from the slide.

"My dogs were freaking out. Like I said, I heard my neighbors yelling and we saw it in the morning and we freaked out, but it was quite the sound," said McElgunn days later on May 24.

More than a million tons of rock and dirt came down at Mud Creek, burying Highway 1 between Salmon Creek and Gorda in Monterey County.

"The old highway was more or less a straight shot across Mud Creek," Erwin said. "We are now going to be realigning it. I’ll say about 150 feet or so, maybe 200, in the furthest point away from where the old highway was."

Work has been going on for months. The north end of the quarter-mile stretch of new road was one focus on Friday.

Crews worked on an embankment that will eventually hold up the highway. In one spot, the road will be 200 feet above sea level. Erwin said they’re about halfway there with 100 more feet to go.

"We got roughly 10 to a dozen trucks that are doing different haul routes to bring that material," Erwin added.

An excavator was clearing dirt to be used for the embankment. Plus, one of two large berms was being built to block future slides. Another safety feature to come is wire mesh along the slopes to trap any falling rocks.

With mid-September being the target opening for traffic, "It’s weird to think of Ragged Point busy again," said Matthew Ramey of Ragged Point Inn. His family has owned the place for years.

Located just five miles south of the slide, the inn has seen better days.

"It’s a ghost town during the day but nighttime the hotel is doing just fine," Ramey added.

Since the closure, the inn has started offering more specials for locals and Groupon discounts.

But Central Coast visitors keep running into the same problem.

"We weren’t even aware of the slide until we got to Cambria and one of the locals there told us about the slide," said Doug Howell of Southern California.

"Rerouting, taking a different route and making the day of it," said another Southern California resident, Michael Grossman.

Caltrans says once the highway does reopen, drivers can expect delays and crews still at work.

The project has an estimated cost of $54 million.