Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) could be getting some much needed attention just north of Santa Monica with two Caltrans projects on the way that could shore up the delicate coastal thoroughfare. 

One of the projects dates back to 2016, when high surf swept away a portion of the highway’s shoulder, exposing a high pressure gas pipeline in the Tuna Canyon area not far from Malibu’s southern border. 

Caltrans, the state agency in charge of PCH, immediately got to work on emergency repairs, but a longer term solution is still needed, including the addition of beach access stairs for public use. The stairs fall under the purview of the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA) and are to be completed once structural work is done.

“The purpose of this project is to provide shoreline protection  … which Caltrans believes is needed to prevent roadway failure at this location,” according to information provided by the California Coastal Commission. “Cracks and displacements of the roadway shoulder provide evidence of accelerated structural undermining of the slope from ongoing wave-induced erosion.” 

If that portion of the highway became impassable, the most accessible high-traffic route in and out of southern Malibu would necessitate driving up and around through Malibu Canyon, lengthening the trip from Santa Monica Pier to Malibu Pier from 12 to 40 miles. That scenario is not without precedent — PCH near Point Mugu in Ventura County fully closed for 77 days in 2014-15 due to rockslides.

The Tuna Canyon project, near the intersection of Big Rock Drive and PCH, will include a reinforcing secant wall to be fully buried in the road shoulder. It was originally scheduled for a permit hearing at next week’s Coastal Commission hearing, but the item has been postponed.

A second item to improve the coastal artery is still up for discussion when the Commission meets on Friday, Oct. 14: a project to clear and upgrade 13 storm culverts located below the road in the northern stretch of LA County from Pacific Palisades to Ventura County line.

“Various types of damage to the culverts have been discovered including joint separations, misalignments, buckling, cracking of pipe barrel, and clogs,” according to Coastal Commission staff. “Repair, replacement and/or rehabilitation are essential to restore the proper functioning and avoid further deterioration, increase their service life, reduce the risk of flooding, prevent erosion of the roadway embankment, and improve stormwater conveyance.”

The project is made more challenging due to specific features of the terrain including wildfire, rockslide and erosion risk, and sensitive vegetation and habitat areas. Caltrans has pledged to keep a specialist on site to monitor snowy plover habitat areas and consult with a resource specialist to avoid unnecessary impacts on grunion spawning during the construction period. 

The Commission is set to discuss the plans when it meets on Friday. The agenda is available by visiting www.coastal.ca.gov/meetings/agenda.

emily@smdp.com