This may sound a tad blasphemous but why reopen Highway 1 through the Big Sur Wilderness where a mudslide earlier this month added 13 acres to California?
Highway 1 through the Big Sur Wilderness is not a key north-south transportation route. It is a sparsely populated area — and that is being generous.
In a state where environmentalists routinely trash new dams as being reckless adventures as they could trigger earthquakes among other things and have made a serious effort for years to restore the Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park by removing O’Shaughnessy Dam, you’d at least expect a peep or two about the folly of reopening the mud slide area.
The San Lucia Mountains at just 5 million years of age are considered very, very young in terms of geology. They are still being pushed upward from the floor of the Pacific Ocean.
Mud Creek — the area where the mudslide occurred — is not actually a creek. It is so named because the mountain side there is essentially an unstable area that oozes mud as well as water on a fairly constant basis that picks up significantly during above average rainy seasons.
The area above the slide is still unstable meaning geologists can’t get in to even assess what needs to be done to rebuild the highway.
The mountainsides in much of the Big Sur Wilderness have been slip sliding away for hundreds of centuries.
The State of California back in the 1930s ramped up the acceleration process by building Highway 1. Some geologists say evidence supports the contention that old slide areas that could have remained dormant for centuries to come were reactivated by building the highway that essentially made a notch in the mountain sides.
Unlike in the Sierra and mountains elsewhere where such notches are in granite or at least stable earth, large swaths of Highway 1 through the Big Sur Wilderness are destined to slip into the ocean in a period of time that is a blink of an eye geologically speaking.
We’ve come a long ways since the early part of the 20th century in containing our appetite for highways and even freeways in remote places that don’t make much sense.
Depending upon whose history you follow, there were no less than four efforts to build additional trans-Sierra highways between Highway 178 over Walker Pass east of Bakersfield to Highway 120 over Tioga Pass east of Manteca. At least two were at one point or another on the state’s official radar.
Then there were freeways envisioned that were abandoned. Among them was an idea deep-sixed in the early 1960s to convert California Highway 1 from Monterrey to San Luis Obispo to basic freeway status as a four-lane road.
California seems to have gotten over its false sense of empowerment over nature as it no longer blindly adopts the philosophy that just because an engineer can create a solution that it should be implemented.
Engineers could make four lanes on Highway 1 work but it wouldn’t likely stand the test of time as measured in the life span of a typical man.
Someone needs to ask the question: Does reopening this segment of California Highway 1 make sense?
It’s a nice leisurely drive for those that take it. But other than that, and the fact it provides a livelihood for a handful of businesses catering to tourists while much of the highway stretch south of Big Sur is home to people who prefer to live far away from civilization.
Is reopening the highway justifiable not just from an economic standpoint but also from an environmental perspective?
It is clear the road’s very existence in a number of places is an open war with the forces of nature. It does contribute to mudslides. It is an aberration of common sense and civilization. If Donald Trump Jr. proposed building condos and a signature hotel carrying his family’s name on the side of Mount Vesuvius that wiped out Pompeii environmentalists and half the world would go bonkers.
Given volcanic eruptions of Mount Vesuvius are much less frequent — the last one was in 1944 — than major Santa Lucia Mountains mudslides it would make more sense in terms of tempting the odds to rebuild Pompeii instead of rebuilding Highway 1 at Mud Creek.
To be honest, it is highly unlikely to see a retreat on Highway 1 in our lifetime. But not having serious conversations whether it is in the best interests of California, the environment, and people in general is a little weird given our state’s deep green lean until you realize the Big Sur Wilderness serves as a natural temple of sorts that many battling mightily to restore Hetch Hetchy make pilgrimages to enjoy.
It would be extremely tough to access it without keeping California Highway 1 whole regardless of the cost to taxpayers and the environment.
Just like serious discussions have been conducted and plans made to essentially eliminate private vehicle traffic in Yosemite Valley the same consideration should be given to the Big Sur Wilderness.