Inside Seven
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A rock climber knocks loose unstable rocks.

The Pacific Coast Highway Gets Rocked
by  Patrick Chandler
Issue Date: 02/2011

Winter rains caused rock slides that closed the most beautiful highway in California

A rumble, a smack, and then a crack… These sounds were easily heard while standing near the slopes near Point Mugu in mid-December and early January along the Pacific Coast Highway (SR-1), also known as PCH.

On the weekend of December 18 heavy rains caused rockslides along PCH near Point Mugu just miles north of the Big Sycamore Maintenance Yard in Ventura County. Unfortunately, the rocks did not just fall on the shoulder of the highway, they had a bigger impact.

According to the Ventura County Fire Department, a large rock fell onto a car causing the motorist to flee from the car when it became engulfed in flames. The rock knocked the engine out of its block, but fortunately the motorist was not hurt. The highway had to be shut down.

PCH was closed for nine miles between Las Posas Road, to the north, and Yerba Buena Road, to the south from December 18 to January 8. Surfers, outdoor enthusiasts, and commuters had to find other ways around the area.

Even with the chance of getting hit by falling rocks District 7 maintenance crews responded to rockslide locations. Their job was to clear the highway to prevent rock piles and to provide access for public safety vehicles. “Some of the rocks were the size of Volkswagens,” said Maintenance Superintendent Patrick Porteus.

Engineering Geologist Gustavo Ortega was requested to evaluate the situation and recommend a solution. Ortega recommended that the rocks along the slopes with a potential to fall on the highway be removed, therefore the damage assessment team needed a contractor with the necessary skills. AIS Construction from Carpinteria, California whose specialty is scaling and stabilizing dangerous slopes was hired.

AIS removed the rocks and material from the face of the slope by hand with pry bars, picks, shovels, rope, and in some cases, air bags. Climbers attached to ropes and adorned with climbing gear removed rocks and debris while heavy equipment operators below loaded the rocks and debris into dirt haulers.

As repair crews progressed, they attempted to open the highway with a flagging operation on Monday, December 27. But heavy rains caused rocks and debris to fall onto the highway beyond the catchment basins. The highway had to be closed again.

A few sunny breaks in the storm allowed the work to continue.

At the end of the project, approximately 11,000 yards of material was removed from five of the rock slide sites. PCH was opened to the public on Saturday, January 8.

“We do not like to close any freeway or highway, but the danger along PCH to the public and Caltrans employees made it very necessary,” said Deputy District Director of Maintenance Dan Freeman. “Our crews opened the road when they were confident that the slopes were stable and there was no immediate possibility of falling rocks.

Be sure to check out the video and pictures.

Maintenance truck seen blading to clear rocks from the highway. Cyclists and motorist make their way through a section of PCH near the rock slide. Closed section of PCH near Mugu Rock. Contractors scale a steep slope to remove loose and unstable rocks.