Caltrans announced Tuesday morning it would be reopening six miles of its ongoing Pacific Coast Highway road closure near county line, but the three miles that remain closed mean there’s still no getting in or out of western Malibu via PCH.
Roadways are now open for vehicular traffic where they had been closed between Las Posas Road and Sycamore Cove Day Use Area since a rockslide on Dec. 12, 2014, caused the highway to be temporarily blocked.
The announcement signals that work is ongoing at the site, where additional storms in December and January caused further damage. However, it falls short of a substantial change for Malibu residents and local commuters who still have no chance of getting through the closure.
The six-mile stretch effectively gives access to the trails and beaches at Point Mugu State Park, but offers no relief to commuters or emergency personnel. PCH remains closed westbound from Sycamore Cove to Yerba Buena Road.
Now entering its eighth week, speculation has been raised about what could be causing the extended closure, and many businesses like Neptune’s Net have seen revenue plummet. The remaining portion is estimated to remain closed through the end of February.
According to the statement released by Caltrans, the office in charge of the project, some of the holdup has to do with a lack of permits from the many governing bodies with oversight in the area.
“At [Big Sycamore] another slide has undermined the highway and will need to be stabilized and rebuilt. Caltrans is working with environmental regulatory agencies for the necessary environmental permits to initiate the work at this location,” Caltrans announced Tuesday.
According to Caltrans spokesperson Patrick Chandler, all permits are indeed in, contrary to the release.
“Those have already been completed,” Chandler said.
That was backed up by Aaron Allen, chief of the North Coast Branch of the Army Corps of Engineers, one of the departments that gave Caltrans permission for the project.
“Caltrans required an emergency permit for a few of the spots where they wanted to place large rocks to rebuild and protect the road,” Allen said, adding, “I believe we issued the emergency permit probably a week and a half ago.”
Allen added that he represented only one of multiple agencies with stock in the project.
“As far as our agency’s concerned, they’re authorized to do all the work they need to prepare PCH,” Allen said. “I can’t speak for any other agencies.”
The California Coastal Commission, another office with jurisdiction in the area, did not respond to requests for comment.
Another element of the project mentioned in the Caltrans update was the relocation of utility lines necessary for work at mile marker 4.0, west of Big Sycamore.
“Caltrans worked with utility companies to move their utility lines to the other side of the road so that crews can begin repairs,” the statement reads.
Mark Olson, spokesperson for Southern California Edison, said that work was completed on Jan. 24.
“We moved our poles to accommodate the roadwork to be done,” Olson said, “so our work is done until they complete their work.”
Olson added that moving the poles back to their permanent location is “about a two day project.”
Power poles and permits do not seem to be causing a slowdown, and according to Chandler, work is continuing at an accelerated pace.
“We’re trying to get the most … work done as possible,” Chandler said, adding, “[the contractors] have extended hours to get the job done, moving as fast as they can.”
According to Chandler, contractors are working 10-hour days, five days a week, but will not work at night because of safety and cost concerns.
“We’re not going to work people to death,” Chandler said, “We also have to keep costs in mind as well.”
“There’s no lighting on PCH. Yes, you can bring lighting in, but it is a safety issue. It is right along the coast,” he added.
Chandler acknowledged that there has been speculation that Caltrans is not really expediting the process.
“There’s been a lot of questions floating around about how many workers are on the job, how they’re working. It’s more complex than that,” Chandler said. He would not disclose the number of workers on scene.