Reported for KQEDnews.org by Lisa Pickoff-White.
A Caltrans construction crew on Friday punched through the northern end of Devil’s Slide tunnel that will link Pacifica and Montara. Three years after breaking ground on the project, Caltrans now expects the passage to open in 2012.
Since 1958, Californians have debated what to do about the Devil's Slide, a winding stretch of Highway 1 known for its rockslides, landslides and road closures.
"Highway 1 should never have been built along this stretch," said Ivan Ramirez, a Caltrans civil engineer. "We're always going to have these slides occurring, and eventually we're going to lose Highway 1. These tunnels need to be built."
The project consists of twin 30-foot wide tunnels. Upon completion of the project, Devil’s Slide will be the longest road tunnel in California at 4,342 feet northbound and 4,585 feet southbound. At the northern end, a 1,000-foot bridge will connect the tunnel to the valley at Shamrock Ranch.
Construction crews have experienced several setbacks. Crews excavated 10 types of rock that required different lining designs; water poured through the rock when crews were working, so they later had to "drain the mountain." Creating enough ventilation was also a concern.
Over the last three years the crews excavated the rock, removing it to a nearby site. Then they installed initial support elements tailored to the type of rock in different regions of the tunnel. The crews then installed several layers of lining.
Initially, Caltrans had proposed building a bypass through the region in the late 1950s. But public opposition forced the bypass closed. In the 1970s, a Sierra Club lawsuit brought any such plans to a halt as environmental and local groups battled with Caltrans over the bypass through the 1970s and 80s.
In 1995, a large landslide closed the road for 158 days and cost almost $3 million to repair. Later that year the Federal Highway Administration ordered Caltrans to re-evaluate building a tunnel.
San Mateo County voters approved Measure T by 76 percent the next year, changing the county's stated preference from the Martini Creek bypass to the construction of a tunnel. Caltrans broke initial ground on May 6, 2005.
After the tunnel is constructed, the old highway is set to be converted into a trail for hikers and bicyclists.