It’s a question that has been on the mind of every Malibu motorist since the summer began: When will we see the opening of that long-awaited, temporary third lane on PCH? The answer is — we won’t.
With many residents ready to blow their gaskets, the second question is: How long will we be down to just two lanes? That answer — a lot longer than expected, possibly into next year.
Caltrans has nixed the idea of adding an additional lane to accommodate rush-hour traffic, citing further delays in its hillside grading project at Las Flores. “It’s pretty much a definite decision,” says Caltrans spokeswoman Margie Tiritilli. “What we’re trying to do is get the work done as quickly as possible.”
Said City Manager Harry Peacock, “The downside of opening a third lane is slowing down the project in the rainy season.”
In addition to restricting the work space for construction crews and their equipment, reconfiguration to accommodate a third lane could prove potentially dangerous. “It’s a matter of safety,” explained Assistant Resident Engineer Edmond Matevosian. “We cannot remove those sea trains [cargo containers] until the majority of the dirt is gone.”
Caltrans says the work has reached the halfway mark, with approximately 173,000 cubic yards of dirt cleared as of last week and another 170,000 cubic yards yet to go. Even so, removing all the dirt and debris is only part of the project. The area will have to be given proper drainage, as well as erosion control. Plans for a pair of concrete retaining walls have yet to be finalized.
Even though the work continues daily, a completion date could be months away. Everything from a rough patch of terrain to an afternoon rain shower could postpone the project. For that reason, there are no easy estimates. “Optimistically,” says Matevosian, “end of December — optimistically. Realistically — mid-February.”
The assistant engineer, however, did have some good news to report. According to soil testers and engineering assessments, the hillside has stabilized. One bluff-top property, it appears, will also be spared. There had been some discussion about the removal of another home on Sierks Way and the purchase of an adjacent vacant lot, but that may not be necessary. “They’ll stay,” he said. Two homes that were coming close to the point of collapse were purchased and demolished by Caltrans earlier this year.
Mammoth traffic jams, meantime, have become as familiar to Malibu as the dolphins and the high tide. On Sunday afternoon, campers and convertibles, motorcycles and MTA buses spent another day idling in the summer sun. The squeeze after Big Rock created a standstill that stretched back to Topanga, and there seems to be no end in sight. With luck and cooperation from Mother Nature, it could be over by the end of the year. Without luck and cooperation, we could be inching toward the millennium on a very rocky road.