Calif. tourism officials propose alternative routes with Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge closed

This portion of Highway 1 at Big Sur, with the Bixby Creek Bridge in the background, remains open.
This portion of Highway 1 at Big Sur, with the Bixby Creek Bridge in the background, remains open. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Visit California

With a part of Highway 1 at Big Sur closed until the fall, California tourism officials are encouraging travelers to make the iconic coastal trip, with a detour.

Severe winter storms damaged the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge beyond repair and the replacement won't be completed until Sept. 30, according to state highway department projections.

That means travelers won't be able to fully experience Highway 1 during summer peak season.

The tourism industry is expected to take a $550 million economic hit, said Caroline Beteta, president and CEO of Visit California.

"Driving Highway 1 at Big Sur is one of those bucket list experiences, like seeing the Taj Mahal or visiting the Eiffel Tower," she said.

A mudslide south of the closure hemmed in two luxury resorts: the Ventana Inn & Spa, which remains closed, and the Post Ranch Inn, where guests are arriving by helicopter.

Business has fallen by almost half for the Big Sur River Inn, which is open, said general manager Rick Aldinger. The trouble is that visitors are canceling trips even though some of the most beautiful parts of the drive are unaffected, he said.

"The closing of the bridge is getting all the attention, but so many aspects of the drive on Highway 1 are still available," he said. "It's as spectacular as it's always been."

From Carmel, it's a 26-mile drive south, including across the iconic Bixby Bridge, to the road closure. From the south, Highway 1 is closed at Ragged Point, 24 miles north of Cambria. Hearst Castle at San Simeon is unaffected.

For San Luis Obispo County, which includes Hearst Castle, the economic impact is expected to be about $8 million in lost revenue, said Brooke Burnham, the Visit San Luis Obispo County vice president of marketing.

"We have been pulling every lever to mitigate the impact of the closure," she said.

Visit California is promoting a detour: driving the 26 miles on Highway 1 from Carmel to Big Sur at the road closure and then doubling back to Carmel, taking Highway 68 to Highway 101 and then Highway 46, which joins Highway 1.

It's a more time-consuming journey, but Beteta said traveler will see the spectacular stretch of Big Sur twice plus the interior farmland valleys and the Paso Robles wine country.

Update: On May 20, a massive slide occurred at Mud Creek, an already-closed section of Highway 1, covering about a third of a mile of the scenic road in the southern part of Big Sur in a mountain of dirt. Because of the unprecedented scale of the slide, Caltrans, the state highway department, is unable to project when Highway 1 will reopen. However, the bridge is still expected to open in late September, allowing more access to the northern part of Big Sur.

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