California’s Highway 1 and Big Sur Face Existential Threats

Climate change, landslides and more

PCH rally
A news conference to announce the "Go Safely PCH" education campaign at the Ghost Tire Memorial along Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu.
Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

There are countless reasons why California’s Highway 1 is a favorite among road trip enthusiasts across the country. Chief among them are the views: there’s something suitably iconic about a drive that offers scenic views of the Pacific Ocean for miles and miles. Unfortunately, there are reasons why most well-trafficked highways don’t hug the coastline, and in an era of climate change, those issues are magnified even further.

Writing at The Washington Post, Melina Mara, Scott Dance and Brianna Sacks chronicled the highway’s existential threats. As the authors note, the last decade has brought with it a series of disasters that have led to collapses or blockages of the highway; given that climate change is unlikely to stop, the structure remains at risk.

This is especially unsettling when it comes to the most scenic stretches of roadway. The reporters point to the highway near Big Sur, where rock formations are more fragile than their East Coast counterparts. In their words, that makes the entire region “a recipe for landslides” — something that’s especially fraught given the outsize role the highway plays in local mythology.

It’s left Big Sur’s small business owners wondering about the future of their community. Restaurant owner Ben Perlmutter described the fatigue that comes with responding to unexpected situations. “You have to totally transform on a dime to prepare your businesses to respond to these disasters,” he told the Post.

The question of what to do with coastal land in the wake of climate change is one that has many permutations, but Highway 1 adds another wrinkle there: namely, its role in the region’s infrastructure. Whatever the future of Highway 1 and the communities it serves may be, it’ll involve some challenging decisions.

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