Early Devil’s Slide reopening a relief for drivers

Coastside residents exulted at the announcement Thursday that Caltrans plans to reopen Highway 1 at Devil’s Slide during commute hours beginning Aug. 4, more than a month ahead of schedule.

The road was shut down April 2, creating what some residents have called the world’s biggest cul-de-sac, following heavy spring rains that caused boulders to fall on the road and large cracks to form as the hill began to creep more rapidly toward the ocean. Residents in and near Half Moon Bay, who previously could commute north to San Francisco on Highway 1,have been forced to take Highway 92 to Interstate 280 or U.S. Highway 101, resulting in traffic backups and a two-hour commute for many.

“This is fantastic news for us,” Half Moon Bay Mayor Marina Fraser said. “It means we get our lives back.”

Charise McHugh, president of the Half Moon Bay Coastside Chamber of Commerce, called the announcement a pleasant surprise. “It was better than my most optimistic expectations,” she said.

Many retailers in Half Moon Bay saw a 35 percent drop in business, with restaurants taking an even bigger hit, losing out on about 50 percent of their typical sales, McHugh said. North of Half Moon Bay, some businesses saw a drop of as much as 75 percent in sales, she said.

Some work remains to be done on the slide, as well as two much smaller slides farther north on the highway, Caltrans District Director Bijan Sartipi said. But that work will be done in “off-peak hours,” much of it at night when the road can safely be pinched down to one lane.

The damage to the highway is tentatively estimated at about $7.5 million, officials said. An additional $2 million has been earmarked for the two smaller slides. The federal government is footing the bill for the job, using emergency funding. A slide in 1995 closed the highway for six months.

Using a technique employed after that slide, workers have essentially “stitched” the slide to the more stable interiors of the mountain by drilling more than 200 holes up to 150 feet deep into the mountain and using compression cables to squeeze the slide, Sartipi said. “This time there are more cables and workers are drilling the holes deeper into the mountain,” he said.

"This is a new Caltrans that isn’t a faceless bureaucracy,” Supervisor Rich Gordon said, praising the state for its responsiveness to citizens’ concerns and round-the-clock work to accomplish the reopening within budget and ahead of schedule.

Officials hope the repair holds until the $220 million Devil’s Slide tunnel can be completed in 2011.

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