Residents, businesses rejoice as Highway 1 reopens

The reopening of Devil’s Slide this morning will be a welcome relief for Kelly Hoffman who, after being forced to commute for more than an hour each weekday for four months, will now be able to cruise to work in eight minutes.

From her home in Pacifica, she could practically see her office in Montara, making the washed-out road allthe more frustrating, she said. Today’s opening, in time for the morning rush hour, is like “Christmas Day,” said Hoffman, who owns logo and Web design company The Graphic Works.

“I was losing two hours a day sitting in traffic,” Hoffman said.

The April 2 road closure following heavy spring rain that brought down 6-ton boulders and caused gaping cracks in the asphalt created what some residents humorously called the planet’s biggest cul-de-sac, forcing drivers to Highway 92. Some unknown locals even posted road signs reading, “Edge of the known world 5 miles” on northbound Highway 1.

Aside from traffic snarls, local businesses felt the pinch of being cut off from their customers. Many retailers in Half Moon Bay saw a 35 percent drop in sales, with restaurants seeing decreases of about 50 percent, according to Half Moon Bay Mayor Marina Fraser. Farther north, in Montara, business saw a drop of as much as 75 percent, she said.

“Our revenue has been down about 25 percent,” Half Moon Bay Brewing Company Director of Sales Wayne Meyer said. One of the largest employers on the coast, with more than 100 people on its payroll, the brewery was forced to lay off eight employees due to a lack of business, Meyer said.

Reopened in time for some of the warmest weeks of summer, Meyer says he hopes business will come roaring back.

“We’re extremely excited and have booked some live Blues bands for this weekend,” he said.

U.S. Rep. Tom Lantos, D-San Mateo, one of many area officials who attended Thursday’s ribbon cutting, joked it was a neck-in-neck race as to which of the two most enduring problems of his 25-year tenure would be solved first: Fidel Castro or the recurring closures of Devil’s Slide. Lantos helped secure about $250 million in federal funds for the Devil’s Slide tunnel bypass, which is expected to open in 2011.

Supervisor Rich Gordon, who represents thecoast, thanked mid-coast residents for their patience during the closure and Caltrans for its around-the-clock work resulting in the road opening to rush hour traffic seven weeks ahead of schedule. “I pray that the next time we are here, it is to cut the ribbon to the Devil’s Slide tunnel and to dedicate this road as a pedestrian and bicycle route,” Gordon said.

Caltrans will continue to wrap up the job, as well as repair two much smaller slides farther north on Highway 1 in off-peak hours in the next several weeks, according to Bijan Sartipi, Caltrans district director.

ecarpenter@examiner.com

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