Album:  Rebuilding Devil’s Slide, and a persistent question

Posted by on Fri, May 26, 2006

Cheri Parr
Two huge cranes dominate the slide this week. Click to view our album, and to get a close look at what's going on up there.

Coastsider went up to Devil’s Slide Thursday to shoot some video, take some pictures, and talk to Caltrans geologist Grant Wilcox. This is one of the best photo albums we’ve run and if you want to understand what the job site looks like, you should take a look.

The top question on our list was the one that seems to be on everyone’s lips this week: Could Caltrans offer one-way service for cars at rush hours? 

That was the hot question at Wednesday’s Midcoast Community Council meeting. It came up in the community comments at the beginning and during the debate between the candidates for San Mateo County Board of Supervisors.

We asked Caltrans spokesman John Cunliffe at the Slide on Tuesday and he says that there is no room for cars to pass with the massive cranes currently occupying the site.  The cranes speak for themselves. We walked between the enormous cranes that straddle the road now and we couldn’t figure out how to get a car past there, or how the move the cranes twice daily to open a lane.

In a couple of weeks, the larger of the two cranes will be moved off the site, but another crane, the size of the "smaller" one already there, will be brought up to the site. [Click for a closer look at this photo. Click that image for a much larger version.] One will be used for drilling the holes in the side of the cliff above the roadbed and a second one will be used at the same time to drill the holes under the roadbed. The holes will be used to tie the slide to the mountain on the other side of the current slide plane.  We don’t see how cars could pass with two of these cranes drilling on the site.

At Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors debate at the Midcoast Community Council, Supervisor Rich Gordon said that Caltrans might be able to open the Slide to one-way traffic in August. As the beginning of the new school year approaches, we expect this topic to heat up.

We also asked Cunliffe whether any Caltrans or construction vehicles were allowed to pass through the site between Montara and Pacifica.  He says they are not.  There were plenty of cars and trucks on either side of the site, but it was clear they were going out the way they had come in. 

Will the cranes be on the roadbed for the duration, or at least most of it? It does seem that the site is not friendly toward moving the cranes out of the way for commuting (nor are the cranes likely to be kind to temporary pavement).

At the very least there appears to be a tradeoff between finding a way to route one-way commute traffic over the slide and the schedule for completion. I can easily imagine that there are more than a few people who would be willing to extend the project schedule if we could have in return limited access to the road.

The problem with schedule extension, I imagine, is that Caltrans reasonably unwilling to schedule the project into the next rainy season.

In retrospect, we could all wish that Caltrans had implemented this larger-scale fix the last time around.

If not for the duration, drilling the holes does seems to be a big part of the job.  They’re building the whalers (walls) now, and will begin drilling in a couple of weeks.

Two questions, then, for your research staff, Barry.

What’s the broad outline of the project timeline? What gets done when? Obviously Caltrans must have a pretty good idea, given that they’ve now got an overall schedule and are letting contracts. I’d really like to see a timeline with significant milestones.

And: why “whalers”? Here’s a clue:

Great photos Coastsider!
My heart goes out to those on the mid-coast who are so severly impacted by the closure of Devil’s Slide. 
To increase the use of public transportation, would it be possible for busses to have police escort on Hwy 1 during rush hour to ease their way past automobile traffic? Increased ridership would also alleviate traffic woes for those drivers who must use their own vehicles to transport gear and other equipment.
Sofia Freer

I can’t help but note the assumption that Caltrans is doing what it must do. They depend on that sort of thing to have their way with us. The fact that things are done differently everywhere else when vital roads in steep places go out never seems to sink in around here.

Carl May

Carl, I make that assumption (that Caltrans is doing what it must do) in the present state of the repair. I agree that the process that led up to the choice of the repair method should have been open to the public, so that there could have been public input into that choice.

That said, I’m open to the real possibility that Devil’s Slide is significantly different from “everywhere else”, and that the range of options was narrower than usual. Still, it would have been nice to have had more visibility into the process.

The assumption that Caltrans is doing everything they can to fix the slide is absolutly true.  Is it the correct decsion????They are fixing this with the intention the road WILL NEVER SLIDE again, or at least for the next 15 yrs, according to John Cunliffe.  It must have taken them a number of weeks to procure some federal money.  Once that was done they went to the contractor and said, guys we have 7.5 million what can you do for us?  For 7.5 million they could do a lot.  It would have been interesting to see what would have happen if the fed only gave cal trans a million??  They would have had the road open a lot faster.  What they are doing now is absurd considering the life of the road.  That road has fallen about 50 feet since it was built and it will continue to fall to the sea, about 8 inches a yr on average. Despite what Caltrans wants you to beleive the road is not going to fall 300 feet to the sea all at once with cars on it.

Nice pictures.  How about some night shots??Would be nice to know they are actually working around the clock wouldn’t it???Everytime I have flown over the site into SFO at night i have not seen any lights on!!! How do we know they are acytually working at night?

Well, it’s lovely that some have been sold on faith that Devil’s slide is unique in all the universe, but that is simply not so—as attested to by books full of testimony and studies by independent geologists and engineers during previous outages. Caltrans has tried this “different” line the past couple of outages, always supported by their in-house geologist.

This slide is in a category of landslide broadly classified as a “rockslide.” The basics of rockslide movements are well known. No subscription to Caltrans religion required for this situation. We could be driving on a temporary repair on the slide right now—could have been driving on it for weeks now. This is how they do it in other places where the politics are different and a gullible, urbanized public is not taken in by an agency’s spin.

The $7.5 million being spent on this repair is double in dollars (not adjusted for inflation) what was spent on maintenance of the road from its opening in 1937 to the outage of the early 1980’s. This for a future trail when the twin tunnels are open, a trail that would not have required any extensive repair at all with the amount of movement that took place this year.

Coastsiders deserve the inconvenience they are getting for falling for the standard Caltrans line and getting sidetracked on trivia like coning off lanes and timing lights at congested intersections.

Carl May