Big Sur Scenic Highway to Reopen This Month After Massive Landslide

An estimated 1 million tons of debris crashed into the Pacific last week, burying a quarter-mile portion of California's Highway 1. . (Photo: Brian Mack/Screengrab from video)

If you had hopes to drive end-to-end along California's iconic coastal Highway 1 this summer, you'll soon be in luck. The section of highway in Big Sur that was destroyed by a landslide last year will reopen on July 20.

Crews worked seven days a week to complete the $54-million emergency repairs, reports the Los Angeles Times. A new highway was built across the landslide and reinforced with embankments, berms, rocks and netting.

On May 20, 2017, an estimated 1 million tons of rock and debris slipped 250 feet down a hillside in Big Sur, burying a quarter-mile stretch of Highway 1 before crashing into the Pacific. Fortunately, no injuries or missing persons were reported.

Some Big Sur residents were left stranded, as Highway 1 is the only way in and out of town. As a workaround, an emergency hiking trail was dug through the mess. Residents and tourists alike are using it to buy groceries, get to school and go about their daily business.

A shuttle bus brought residents to the emergency trail. But trying to book it was a challenge in itself due to limited phone reception in the remote area. Still, local business owners hoped the trail will help them recover a little from months of lost business.

As The Guardian reported last year:

Nepenthe, a cliffside restaurant known for its bohemian scene and two-hour waits, went from serving 1,000 people a day to 30 when it was totally isolated. It sees 250 a day now that the trail is open. “It really is a unique and special time to see Big Sur in all its beautiful glory,” said third-generation owner Kirk Gafill. “If you want a once-in-a-lifetime experience, take advantage now.”

The road to recovery

According to Susana Cruz, a spokeswoman with the California Department of Transportation, the landslide was likely the largest in California state history. As you can see in the drone footage shot above last year, the highway was buried under an estimated 40 feet of debris.

Not surprisingly, the uptick in damage to roads in California since 2016 is largely due to the record-breaking storms that have impacted the region. According to federal scientists, the state was in the midst of its wettest year in over 122 years of record keeping.

“There was so much saturation and so much weight,” Cruz said of the slide.