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.

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

  1. Kate,

    Thanks for the regular updates! So sad to hear the cooperation between residents and Caltrans is not what it should be.. In remote areas, like Big Sur, everyone needs to work together to recover as quickly as possible to keep everyone safe!



  2. Thanks for that account of community caring and doing for each other. Unforgettable experience and history.

  3. What changed? Maybe the extensive use of “contracted crews”. Not to slam those individuals, but they are working for private profit-motivated companies, and so they may have to ration their time more closely; they are not a public service agency. Caltrans can have an “ownership” attitude toward the Highway, and a sense of responsibility.

  4. I agree with Big Sur Reviews. CalTrans has a long history now, sadly, of using substandard subcontractors who use shoddy, substandard equipment. Many failures are coming home to roost now. CT HQ is now bloated and arrogant. Their political campaign funding, not to mention their yearly $1M payment to our Coastal Commission (to pay for CCC staff salaries) underscores that arrogance and sense of being above the riff raff (us).

  5. Here at Ragged Point, we’ve been really impressed with how hard the contractors are working. In our experience, that’s not been the issue.

  6. As Principal at Carmel Middle during the 1995 Storms…We set up one of the first Distance Leaning events in the County. We were offering video lessons from our studio at CMS to students trapped on the other side of the closures. Thanks to the Big Sur Lodge…we were able to run some semblance of instruction at the Lodge. At that time…internet connections were minimal…and most of what we tried to do on-line was minimal…at best. Cal Trans built a temporary road around one of the major slide areas…a road that was nearly straight up and down. The Old Coast Road was a “piece” of that project, and the only way to get to Big Sur…once the Bailey Bridge over the Carmel River was completed. Using that scary as hell temp road allowed me to take 4 teachers to the Lodge every other week. Finally…Nacimiento/Ferguson road was re-opened. I drove a District Van (12 seats) to the Jolon side of NF road where parents picked them up…to finally go home. That happened 3 times over 3 weeks. The students 7-12 had been staying with “host” families until we got the shuttle going .

  7. I’ll echo Diane above and say that my experience is the workers/contractors beavering away at the struggle of trying to keep the highway open is strongly positive. yes, the contractors leave every day but what does anyone who thinks about it expect ? they don’t live here, they CAN’T live here, it’s a BIG effort for them to show up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed hours from where they must sleep ( because there’s nowhere around Big Sur for them ! ) and yet they mostly do, and do long days of hard work.

    in the mid-90’s a majority homes in Carmel Highlands were still lived in, so those Rich Owners were right there to gripe and get results. nowadays it’s different , both here in Big Sur and the Highlands. Now so many 2nd/3rd/4th/more vacation homes of ridiculously wealthy people who do NOT reside here, they barely visit a couple of weekends a year, it’s like their properties here are charm-bracelet ornaments to them for all they get involved.

    and the whole Cover Your A** regards liability, everybody is so quick with ‘I’ll sue!” that reasonable people doing good things ( punching through the slides to Make It Happen for instance ) is just about finished

    it’s a different world nowadays folks.

    but still, the weather has been lovely after the strong rains and Big Sur is sparkling, for all the issues, eh ? Big Sur has always been a PITA, but golly the good parts outweigh the difficulties.

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