History and Relationships — road closures on the South Coast in 1995

Last night, I started reviewing what I remembered about past closures, how people responded, including Caltrans. I sent out a few requests for stories from the before times: when the relationships between Caltrans and local residents was a cooperative one, not an adversarial one. I remember a time when if a local’s vehicle got stuck or broke down, Caltrans would help, if possible. I have seen and heard stories of Caltrans, CHP, State Parks, and the USFS working together and helping one another along with the local residents. When did that end, and more importantly, why did it end? THIS HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH OUR LOCAL CAL TRANS CREW, IT WAY ABOVE THEIR PAY GRADE, AND WE ALL KNOW THAT THEY ARE DOING A YEOMAN’S JOB AGAINST UNBELIEVABLE ODDS.

My most memorable time of cooperation was in the floods of 1995. I was newly wed to a Caltrans maintenance worker the year before. I worked at Pacific Valley School, and each winter, a group of high school students went to the Sierras to ski. This is a story of the road closure from the trip we took in 1995, slightly abbreviated.

The morning we were supposed to leave, I was keeping a close eye on the weather and what I was seeing was not good. When the kids came back from their last ski run, they wanted to talk me into allowing one last run before we headed out. I nixed that idea. Rocky Baird drove the van with the kids and Mariska Harris and I were in my Range Rover.

The storm hit as we were heading home, and before we got to Carmel, we found out the Carmel River Bridge had washed away, so we would have to take the longer way home through Fort Hunter Leggett (FHL). The Green Bridge over the Nacimiento River had also washed out. There we met Captain Kelly Collins of the USFS Pacific Valley station. He told us of another crossing and he lead us to it. It, too, was washed away. We turned back to 101 and went south. We stopped in Paso Robles to have dinner and plan our return. I called the Willow Springs Caltrans station and asked them about the road to the south. They told us the road to the South was closed with a slip out and a slide. They suggested we get a room in San Simeon for the night, leave early the next morning and they would meet us at the problem spot (Soda Springs) and “punch” us through.

It was a harrowing drive to Soda Springs, but Baird led with the van and Harris and I followed in my Range Rover. We met Caltrans and indeed they got us all through and home. It was not easy for them nor for us, but we did it.

The Carmel River Bridge was fixed in record time with a “Bailey” bridge provided to Caltrans by the US Army. It provided a temporary bridge while a new one was built. There were thousands of people stranded back them, including the very affluent Carmel Highlands. It didn’t take them as long to rebuild the entire bridge as Caltrans says it will take to open up the three slides on the South Coast — Paul’s Slide, Mill Creek, and Polar Star. Amazing what numbers and wealth can accomplish.

If you have a road closure story you want to share, feel free to send it to kwnovoa@mac.com I can’t promise to publish it, but I can promise to read it.