PCH Closed Through February, Maybe Longer

Caltrans says repairs on Pacific Coast Highway near county line could last through until the end of January. On Tuesday, rock climbers scaled mountainsides to knock unsteady rocks loose. 

The state has tacked on another month to a Pacific Coast Highway closure that has shut down a crucial commuting route for those going in and out of Ventura County, with Caltrans now saying PCH between Las Posas and Yerba Buena Road will not reopen until at least the end of February. If estimates ring true, the 9-mile closure will have lasted three months. 

The state agency blames high surf and more storms for the latest roadblock, as “slopes below the highway washed away,” according to Caltrans.

For nearly two months, commuters have been forced to take alternate canyon routes if they need to get to Ventura.

Malibu City Manager Jim Thorsen said there’s a safety risk in having a major artery of PCH shut down for so long.

“I will say, from an emergency standpoint … we like to have as many accessways as possible to get in and out of the city,” Thorsen said, “Certainly having this thing cleared up would be important, so if we have an emergency we will have that available for our residents.”

Thorsen added that he has requested Caltrans to work to accelerate the project as much as possible, reaching out to a principal traffic engineer.

“I sent an email out … as to what can be done to speed up this process,” Thorsen said, “I have not heard back from him yet but I anticipate that I will.”

Caltrans spokesperson Patrick Chandler said speeding up the project or opening up at least one lane in each direction is out of the question.

“Accelerating the work? We are accelerating the work, it’s an emergency work order,” Chandler said. “We’re not going to let anybody on to a state highway where there’s danger someone is going to get injured.”

Chandler also shrugged off the question when asked what would occur in case of an emergency in Malibu.

“We clearly understand that it is an artery into that section of L.A. County and Ventura County, but I can’t say a project is going to prevent public safety from doing their jobs,” Chandler said, “but that’s really a question for other agencies. We’ll play a factor but we’re not the only one.”

He then indicated that questions over evacuation routes are not the focus of his operation.

“I think that’s taking this closure a little bit farther away from what’s actually happening here,” Chandler said. “There is a closure, we’re working hard to get it open.”

The highway has been closed since the storm of Dec. 12, 2014, when an avalanche of mud and debris, up to six feet deep in areas, slid across the roadway in pockets up and down the nine-mile stretch just west of Malibu city limits. According to Chandler, storms in mid-January caused additional damage to the road, which has necessitated the prolonged closure.

“I think it was the second weekend of January,” Chandler said, though he could not provide a specific date.

Caltrans claims the road is set to “remain closed until the end of February,” but Chandler mentioned there is no set date to reopen, and it may drag even longer.

“We were shooting … to open much earlier,” Chandler said, going on to describe how multiple rainstorms have continued to damage the area. “I can’t say that I’ll know the future and say we may not have any more weather in that area that could be really bad. We could always have rain in another area.”

In other words, the highway may not be ready to open by the end of February.

“We feel we should be able to get everything done [by late February],” Chandler said, adding, “In a lot of construction projects there are unforeseen things that don’t occur until you start the project.”

The Caltrans statement gives details about the work that’s yet to be done, including a portion of highway near Big Sycamore that has been “undermined” and “will need to be stabilized and rebuilt.” Additionally, workers must add boulders along a beach side slope of the highway at another location, where “a crane will sit in both lanes of the highway.”

“Those things don’t just happen within seconds,” Chandler said. “In the past there have been issues where it didn’t take as long, but this is a totally different situation.”

Mayor Pro Tem Laura Rosenthal found a silver lining in the continued closure. According to Rosenthal, residents have mentioned to her that the closure has cut down traffic throughout Malibu.

“Traffic has been much, much, much, much better,” Rosenthal said, “I think it makes us realize how many people use PCH as a throughway … instead of using the always-congested 101 corridor.”

“So I think for our residents … it’s been kind of a blessing in disguise,” Rosenthal said.