With heavy rainstorms starting around March 18, mudslides occurred near Alder Creek, south of Lucia at Dani Creek and Pitkins Curve/Rain Rocks and near Rocky Creek. Courtesy Photo

After lengthy rain and snow storms rocked California through the end of March, Highway 1 has been hit with a number of mudslides causing closures and extensive damage.

With heavy rainstorms starting around March 18, mudslides occurred near Alder Creek, south of Lucia at Dani Creek and Pitkins Curve/Rain Rocks and near Rocky Creek. The mudslide at Rocky Creek near Big Sur caused the roadway to fall into the ocean. Though Highway 1 at Alder Creek and south of Lucia are now open, Rocky Creek is still closed.

Susanna Cruz, the public information officer for the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) District D, said Big Sur locals and pedestrians are being escorted across the roadway from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Cruz also said the locals have been very understanding of the roadwork.

“Locals are used to Mother Nature and the coast,” Cruz said. “Living in a beautiful area has its pros and cons, so they’re very tolerant and very appreciative of that.”

Cruz said Caltrans has dedicatedly kept a news release online updated for locals and commuters. There is also a telephone line for those looking for updates, she said.

Chris Hatton came to visit his children in San Luis Obispo from Lake Tahoe with his wife and said the road construction and closures on Highway 1 affected their travel plans.

“We always take Highway 1 when coming to visit,” Hatton said. “The road construction definitely averted our plans.”

According to the most recent Caltrans news release, road workers will be installing horizontal nails to temporarily fix the road. The area still remains unstable.

However, Cruz said Caltrans has done a great amount of work to get all of the mudslides cleaned up in an efficient and timely manner. Due to the instability, there is much work to be done.

“It’s not difficult, it’s just elaborate,” Cruz said. “It’s just time-consuming and there’s a whole list of things to do initially.”

The price of the Rocky Creek construction, which has been contracted by Oakland contractor Condon Johnson & Associates, is estimated at $2.5 million, Cruz said. The mudslide fix is also being additionally funded by an emergency fund.

There have also been road delays and construction for the other mudslide locations. Though the slide at Alder Creek was cleaned enough for through traffic, it will only be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. because of the area’s instability, which is more dangerous to deal with at night, Cruz said.

The area south of Lucia at Dani Creek has only one lane open, as well as the enactment of a temporary signal in place for retaining wall installation. A temporary signal is also in effect near the area south of Lucia at Pitkins Curve/Rain Rocks for a bridge/rockshed project, according to the Caltrans news release.

San Luis Obispo County also has roadwork-related delays with multiple culverts being repaired south of Hearst Castle. However, the rain did not affect San Luis Obispo as much as other areas.

Jay Walter, the San Luis Obispo Public Works director, said due to work done funded by revenues from Measure Y, a half cent tax increase enacted in 2007, San Luis Obispo “suffered no damage that we consider significant.”

“The city’s efforts to clean drainage inlets and pipes as well as removing silt from some of our creek channels have really improved the ability for the runoff from storms to pass through without significant flooding or damage,” Walter said.

Yet, with Cal Poly on spring break during a portion of the storm, students were still affected.

Eric Smejkal, a Cuesta College student, said while taking a trip to Lake Tahoe with friends who were on spring break, he experienced extensive delays because of the weather.

“I had to sit in traffic for 25 hours in Colfax,” Smejkal said. “It sucked.”

Some students, however, were unaffected by the storms.

Jane Xiao, an aerospace engineering freshman, and Chao Yang, a civil engineering freshman, both said they experienced no problems with the rain storms.

“We were back here already,” Xiao said.

For those intending to travel Highway 1, the restrictions and road work will continue for an extended period of time. The Rocky Creek roadway is set to be reopened in late April, while construction south of Lucia at Pitkins Curve/Rain Rocks are expected to be finished in the the winter of 2012/2013.

Weather permitting, the San Luis Obispo construction near Hearst Castle is slated to be finished in June 2011, according to the Caltrans news release.

Cruz said the present good weather has benefitted current road construction.

“What’s helpful is that the weather has been very cooperative; Mother Nature has,” Cruz said.

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