Week of Disasters on PCH

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PCH Mudslide Closure

Pacific Coast Highway was pummeled this week, from Oxnard to Pacific Palisades, by disasters ranging from trenches in the road to mudslides to downed power lines, culminating in the closing of Malibu’s main artery at either end for an estimated 12 hours on Tuesday. 

Damaged power lines at Sunset Blvd.

Eastern Malibu on Tuesday joined in the string of road disasters along PCH when a set of damaged power lines near Sunset Boulevard in Pacific Palisades caused the closure of the road in both directions while crews worked to stabilize the smoking power lines.

Late Tuesday morning, traffic on PCH again ground to a halt as damaged power lines were spotted on the ocean side of the roadway close to Moonshadows Restaurant. 

Westbound traffic was routed onto Temescal Canyon Road, with eastbound traffic taking Topanga Canyon. 

The L.A. City Fire Department was on scene, along with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. According to LADWP, approximately 400 customers were affected by the power outage.

Both directions of the highway eventually reopened by 5 p.m., just in time for rush hour. 

PCH mudslide closes 9-mile stretch

On Sunday, PCH was shut down for nine miles across all lanes in unincorporated Ventura County between Malibu and Camarillo, after the first heavy rain of the season caused a colossal mudslide beneath the area where the Springs Fire burned in Spring 2013.

The closure stretched from Las Posas Road to Yerba Buena Road and were expected to remain in effect through at least Thursday, according to Caltrans officials, since the rain could potentially cause additional mudslides in the area and cleanup has not begun.

“It wouldn’t make sense for us to clear out anything now when we know something’s going to come down during this storm,” said Caltrans spokesperson Patrick Chandler during the rain on Tuesday afternoon.

The initial mudslide Sunday afternoon left several vehicles bogged down in muddy debris, though Chandler stated that “because we have the heavy equipment, our guys who were nearby came and just shoved the debris away and people drove through,” that evening.

Although the slide has caused inconvenience to nearby residents and PCH commuters, according to Caltrans there was no damage to the roadway or to protective barriers, which were put in place during Summer 2013 as a preventative measure after wildfires endangered the stability of the area.

“It’s just blockage, the K-rails are 15-20 feet long, they weigh 20,000 pounds, they’re built for this kind of action. It’s just that there was so much mud, the mud went over,” Chandler said.

He added that although there may not be ongoing slides in the area throughout this week’s rainstorm, safety will continue to be an issue until the slopes are dry.

“If we let people go through there, there’s danger involved. This is significant [enough] for us to close the highway, and also it’s in a burn area where we haven’t had any significant rains in a long time, so this is always an issue,” Chandler said.

Thanksgiving water main break

A holiday incident began when a 16-inch steel water main burst, spewing an estimated 200,000 gallons of water across PCH near Trancas in Western Malibu on Thanksgiving night. 

“Water pressure from the pipe pushing out through the roadway … eroded about a nine foot by five foot, what I’ll call a trench, in the roadway,” said Kerjon Lee, a spokesperson for L.A. County Public Works.

The break was reported right before 7 p.m. on Thursday evening, when a geyser of pressurized water, shooting out of a 3-inch fissure in the 60-year-old pipe, flooded several streets, including PCH, and ground traffic to a halt.

The water, spurting from a transmission line that terminates in western Malibu, was finally stopped at 9:20 p.m. 

Holiday traffic was stalled for hours until PCH gradually began to open up after 10 p.m., with just one lane remaining closed where the trench formed.

According to Public Works estimates, 100 Malibu customers were without water for about 24 hours. A “customer” is defined as a single home or condo unit.

Lee shared that a total of 215 five-gallon bottles of water were distributed to residents near the site and county workers went door to door to notify residents about the water being out and the distribution location.

As for the cause of the break, officials are still uncertain.

“We have no conclusive idea of what it was,” Lee said, adding, “It doesn’t look like the age of the pipe was a factor–it’s just a little over 60 years old–but we do know that throughout that system in District [29], there are some upgrade needs.”

It was not until Monday afternoon at around 4:15 p.m. that the affected eastbound lane was reopened.