PCH Stabilized in Eastern Malibu

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Las Tunas State Beach

Traveling along Pacific Coast Highway just became a little safer with the completion of Caltrans’ Las Tunas State Beach Shoreline Protection Project.

The eight-month project shored up a portion of road and beach just east of Big Rock Road, with the construction of a massive, 1,600-foot-long, 20-30-foot-tall sea wall, in anticipation of what many predicted would be a historic El Niño weather event. The area is what is called an “active slide.”

“The presence of a rock revetment in this location is in necessary to protect the continued use of Pacific Coast Highway,” the report from the May 2015 California Coastal Commission meeting described. The $8.2 million project was approved by the commission and contracted to Nordic Industries.

Though the effects of El Niño paled in comparison to what was expected, Caltrans officials said the project likely preserved the highway from intense wave action.

“There was no significant El Niño, but this project was kind of part of that, because if we didn’t have some kind of protection in place, then more of the highway would have washed out, Caltrans Public Information Officer Patrick Chandler told The Malibu Times upon completion of the project. “The issue that we dealt with in 2014 was that a utility line was exposed and also the utility poles on the sea side also had the possibility of falling over with more of the slope eroding.” 

Chandler also described the project.

“We had to haul in several thousands of tons of boulders,” Chandler said. “They were actually placed so that they fit together. With all of the concrete, the boulders and the geotextiles, it’s going to protect the highway there so that the highway will not wash away with the heavy waves that come to the area.”

In addition to concerns over safe travels on PCH, Chandler described the necessity of protecting utilities.

“We had utilities that could have been exposed to heavy waves,” Chandler said. “We had a wave breaker in place so that we could work. We put the rocks in the water to break the waves … these rocks were 8-15 tons. The waves were knocking those rocks down. If you have the idea that a wave can move a multiton rock, then that same wave that hits the exposed soil, then it’s going to be in bad shape. It’s pretty easy to say that if the utility lines were exposed and you had portions of the pavement breaking off, you’re in a pretty bad situation.”

The 8-15 ton rocks used on the project were brought in from Corona on multiple trucks and Caltrans based a lot of their round-the-clock work schedule on the ebb and flow of tides.

“It could be early morning and late at night, and they placed the rocks where necessary,” Chandler said.

In addition to building the large sea wall, the project included building a paved parking lot on the south end of the project and also the installation of natural beach access trails. 

The rock slope protection project will likely guard the highway for at least 25-50 years, according to Chandler. 

“Our environmental engineers and hydrologists look at the wave motion in the area, how sand erosion occurs and how water affects the rocks,” Chandler said. “They, along with our geologists, look at all of that. We’re looking at a multidecade life span. Obviously, with earth movement, sometimes erosion happens a little quicker, but for the most part we’re looking to protect the roadway for a very long time.

“We would like to thank the residents who lived nearby,” Chandler added. “They had to possibly go through some sleepless nights, but I think they understood the importance of the project. Some of them have been in Malibu for a long time, and they had to live through several months of inconvenience, so we thank them for their patience and understanding and support through this project. I’m sure they understood — if you have no PCH, it’s just not Malibu. 

“We understand that PCH is not just a highway, it’s their main street,” Chandler continued. “This is a very unique main street that’s taking on the forces of nature and also moving earth in the area. When we have projects like these, we put a lot of effort and time into it, so the support and understanding from the resident there is definitely key.”