Will Big Sur headaches never end? Another partial road collapse adds to the coastal mecca’s woes

BIG SUR — Restaurants are temporarily closed. Hotels aren’t taking new bookings. State parks and campgrounds are shuttered, and people in the small coastal enclave are on edge after a large chunk of California’s iconic Highway 1 fell into the ocean last weekend. Again.

Will Big Sur’s headaches never end?

As many as 2,000 people were stranded overnight Saturday after the collapse near Rocky Creek Bridge, about 17 miles south of Monterey. People slept in their cars and vans, bunkered down at the Big Sur Lodge, which opened its conference center to stranded drivers while others found a spot with friends.

Convoys of vehicles monitored by Caltrans crews started heading out Sunday on one lane of the highway and will continue at 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. daily for the foreseeable future.

For the stranded drivers, the worst is over. But for the restaurants, hotels, lodges, campgrounds and shops and the workers who rely on tourist dollars to stay afloat, this partial road collapse is just the latest weather-related setback to hit the region: Three other landslides triggered by last year’s torrential rains have cut off a 12-mile stretch of the scenic coastline, creating a burden for residents who must take lengthy detours to jobs and school and deterring visitors from planning road trips up and down the coast.

Entry into Big Sur is now for residents with valid identification and essential workers only. Highway 1 is closed from the north at Palo Colorado to just south of Limekiln State Park. It could be months before the route completely reopens.

“It is a big economic impact,” said Kirk Gafill, the general manager of Nepenthe restaurant in Big Sur. “Many of the businesses will probably be closing or will decrease operations.”

Gafill closed his doors Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday to do maintenance and will reevaluate opening on Thursday.  But even a brief closure can mean hundreds of dollars in lost wages and tips for restaurant and bar workers.

The Big Sur River Inn also was closed Monday and Tuesday and cancelled all reservations with a promise of a full refund for booked guests, according to an outgoing phone message at the inn.

A spokesperson for See Monterey, which offers visitor’s services for the coastal county, said that they do not yet have an estimate for the economic impact caused by the latest slide and road closure.

“We do know that extended closures of Highway 1 to visitors have cost the region hundreds of millions of dollars,” said Sandy Huerta, See Monterey’s communications specialist, in an email. “The closure is not just about the economic impact from visitation, it’s also a major issue for quality of life of residents — people’s jobs, educations and livelihoods are impacted on both sides of the closure.”

A break in the southbound lane of Highway 1 at Rocky Creek Bridge in Big Sur, Calif., Monday, April 1, 2024. (AP Photo/Nic Coury)
A break in the southbound lane of Highway 1 at Rocky Creek Bridge in Big Sur, Calif., Monday, April 1, 2024. (AP Photo/Nic Coury) 

Huerta said the agency hopes for a swift fix of the crumbled road.


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