Topanga Canyon Boulevard is open again

People drive south on Topanga Canyon Boulevard. State Route 27 opened Sunday for the first time since March. Photo by Benjamin Hanson.

Caltrans clears the roadway three months ahead of schedule

In an unanticipated turn of events, Caltrans reopened Topanga Canyon Boulevard on Sunday, June 2, three months before the state agency’s self-described schedule to do so. The main thoroughfare linking the San Fernando Valley and Malibu had been closed from Pacific Coast Highway to Grand View since March 9 when a massive landslide blocked access. Caltrans discovered last week that the landslide was not as deep as experts originally approximated. 

Earlier, Caltrans estimated 5,500 truckloads of dirt and mud would need to be removed from the site, but after crews two weeks ago cleared an access road to the top of the slide they found the land movement was not as deep asoriginally calculated.  In the 10 days since trucks began hauling away tons of debris from the site only 700 or so truckloads were hauled away from the slide, far fewer than Caltrans’ original estimates. With crews working around the clock, the slide was cleared much earlier than the previous estimate of opening sometime after summer which would have been a major blow to area businesses that have been struggling to keep afloat since the emergency was declaredweeks ago. 

Topanga’s opening just before the busy summer season starts is not only a huge relief for businesses, but also for commuters facing lengthy detours on roads, including Las Flores and Tuna Canyon, ill-equipped to accommodate hundreds more vehicles daily. Topanga residents who feared the loss of an escape route out of the canyon in the event of an emergency must also be breathing a huge sigh of relief.

Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency to help secure funds to clear Topanga and LA County Supervisor Lindsey Horvath announced $10,000 grants are available to area businesses impacted by the slide when customers hadno access to patronize them. 

“The Topanga Business Interruption Fund will give small business owners a boost while we also encourage customers to come back and shop Topanga this summer,” said Chair Horvath. “We are here to support the Topanga community through these grants and the swift reopening of Topanga Canyon. Topanga is not alone — we will get through this closure together,” Horvath said just days before the road’s opening in support of the community.

Caltrans District 7 spokesperson Jim Medina said it became apparent last week that the situation in Topanga could improve dramatically, because “the slide wasn’t as deep as we first thought.” Crews removed 15,000 cubic yards of debris when removal of up to 90,000 was anticipated. 

“We were fortunate that way,” Medina continued. “Work progressed really well because we were working 24/7 and it was a nice synchronization of the excavator up top, a spider excavator pushing material down and then we had a long-range excavator on the bottom pulling everything down and trucks hauling out the dirt and boulders at night which was during off-peak hours so it synchronized very nicely. Our contractor did a really great job with the quickness and the safety factors there.”

The road under the weight of so much dirt was badly damaged, requiring Caltrans to hydroblast the caked dirt on the pavement. “It’s ground into the roadway,” Medina explained, “otherwise the road would be slippery.” The lanes also required restriping “because they took a beating with the slide and all the equipment,” according to Medina.

Expect new speed limit signs in Topanga. “The idea is in the coming weeks we’re going to put cable mesh up on the hillside on the steep slope,” Medina said. “That will require occasional one lane closures with flaggers alternating traffic, but we’ll keep the community apprised when that is going to occur.” The alternating lane closures are expectedto happen during off-peak hours. 

Caltrans stated the Tuna Canyon temporary stop light on PCH will remain until further notice. Officials are currently determining whether the light is still necessary. “For the time being it’s going to remain in place,” Medina said. 

Medina advises drivers to check for the latest road conditions in the area.