Highway 1 repairs stalled by commission

David Briggs
Permits to repair a section of Highway One have been appealed by the Coastal Commission.

A proposed road repair whose coastal permit was appealed by the California Coastal Commission in 2011 due to concerns that the rural and historic nature of a section of Highway One was being irrevocably altered is scheduled for a hearing in the next few months.

The appeal of the slide repair, which was slated to take place roughly 1.2 miles south of Stinson Beach, referenced an earlier series of 2007 repairs on Highway One that commissioners say impaired visual resources and encouraged the spread of invasive plants. 

The appeal says those repairs—specifically, the construction of a retaining wall—impaired scenic views for hikers and campers and excessively widened the roadway. Commissioners also wrote that the coastal permit approved by Marin County had no mitigation measures in place to address the problem of potential spread of invasives. 

The appeal has triggered a broad review by Caltrans of how roadwork along Highway One in Marin and Sonoma can balance the preservation of historic character and ensure driver safety. The Stinson repair and at least three other nearby projects on hold during the evaluation.

Though the repairs in 2007 were undertaken after severe storms, the road itself is generally unstable and prone to sliding due to its proximity to the coast, and repairs are needed every year. 

“It wasn’t built to any standard,” said Wajahat Nyaz, a regional project manager for Caltrans, of Highway One. “We inherited it.”

Caltrans is developing guidelines that will impact repairs and storm water replacement projects along the highway and streamline issues currently debated on a case-by-case basis. Mr. Nyaz said the draft rules would require that retaining walls be covered in soil and vegetation. And when that is not possible, Caltrans would use walls stained to blend into the surrounds. 

The narrow highway lacks shoulders in certain areas and its curves are sharp, he said, so all projects adhere to safety standards that can include widening. Hopefully, he added, a consensus will soon be reached that will satisfy both Caltrans and other affected agencies, including the National Park Service and California State Parks.

As far as keeping invasives in check, Mr. Nyaz said the guidelines shift the oversight of invasives to park agencies, which have better expertise in that area.