Long-awaited Devil’s Slide tunnels set to open Tuesday 

click to enlarge After years of costly tunnel construction, drivers on Highway 1 will be able to bypass treacherous Devil’s Slide. - S.F. EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • S.F. Examiner File Photo
  • After years of costly tunnel construction, drivers on Highway 1 will be able to bypass treacherous Devil’s Slide.

Devil’s Slide, a coastal section of state Highway 1 in San Mateo County notorious for rock slides and traffic accidents, will finally be replaced with something a bit more angelic.

Decades in the making, two new tunnels are expected to officially open Tuesday as part of a $439 million transportation project to provide a more reliable link between the towns of Pacifica and Half Moon Bay.

Instead of having to use a harrowing roadway that rises high above the Pacific Ocean, the 4,200-foot-long tunnels will take motorists directly through the San Pedro Mountains.

Gruesome traffic accidents on Devil’s Slide, including the December 2011 death of a motorcyclist, have created a macabre affiliation for the otherwise pristine, scenic stretch of Highway 1.    

San Mateo County Supervisor Don Horsley, a former county sheriff, said he’s witnessed too many of those fatal wrecks over the years.

“We were often called down there for rescue missions,” Horsley said. “But they usually turned out to be just recovery efforts.”

The grim human toll aside, the treacherous terrain of Devil’s Slide has taken a huge economic toll on the coastal residents of San Mateo County. In rainy weather, the steep and unstable cliff side has often crumbled underneath powerful landslides. In 1995, Devil’s Slide was closed for nearly six months, and in 2006 it was shut for four months because of erosion and landslides.

“Any time Highway 1 is closed, it has a devastating effect on local businesses,” said Bob Haus, a spokesman for Caltrans, the state transit agency. “The detours around Devil’s Slide can leave motorists stranded for hours.”

Originally, Caltrans wanted to create a freeway bypass over Montara Mountain as an alternative to Devil’s Slide.

However, local residents wary of the adverse aesthetic effects of a freeway atop coastal lands rallied to pass Measure T, an initiative stating that the tunnels were preferred. With the advocacy of former Peninsula Rep. Tom Lantos — whom the tunnels are named after in memoriam — funding arrived from Washington, D.C., for the $439 million plan.

“We call this the people’s tunnel, because it truly reflects the will of the communities,” said Zoe Kersteen-Tucker, a longtime advocate for the tunnels. “This is a victory for the state and for participatory democracy.”

Kersteen-Tucker said the tunnels will provide a safe and reliable passage for motorists while maintaining the natural beauty of the coast. Eventually, the old Devil’s Slide will be transitioned into a state park, with bike trails and walking paths, Kersteen-Tucker said.

Today, Caltrans, along with elected officials and local activists, will hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the opening of the tunnels.


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Will Reisman

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