At long last, Devil’s Slide tunnels open

Expect your next scenic drive down California’s famed Highway 1 to be much smoother. After years of planning, fighting, re-planning and fundraising, Highway 1’s famed tunnels are now officially completed.

Since 1937, when a 5.9-mile extension of Highway 1 at Devil’s Slide was carved into the cliffs, dangerous accidents and rock slides have ensued.

Now, 76 years later, Caltrans has finally completed the $439 million Tom Lantos Tunnels.

The Devil’s Slide tunnels were dug into the mountainside located behind the precariously-placed old windy road that connects Pacifica and Half Moon Bay.

On Monday, hundreds of people gathered to mark the historic opening of the new 4,200-foot state-of-the art tunnels named after the late U.S. Rep. Tom Lantos. They are the first tunnels to be constructed in California since Oakland’s Caldecott Tunnel in 1964.

It’s a small miracle that these tunnels ever came into existence in the first place. Caltrans had initially proposed creating a four-lane overpass east of the current dangerous route.

However, neighboring citizens were unhappy with this option, believing it would open the area to further development. Then as part of a grassroots effort the current tunnel plan was born. Then in 1996 San Mateo County voters passed Measure T in order to fund the ambitious tunnel project.

Zoe Kersteen-Tucker, a Moss Beach resident and leader of the residents group who pushed for the tunnel project told Inside Bay Area:

“It feels like an extraordinary victory. So many people have worked for so many years to see this project come to completion.”

In addition to making the coast driver safer for everyone, the tunnels will also protect the livelihoods of thousands of people who live and work along the coast. The Devil’s Slide area was prone to dangerous landslides, leaving coastal areas cut off for months at a time, most recently in 1995 and 2006.

Sen. Barbara Boxer said at the celebration ceremony this week:

“This project will finally end the lengthy closures of Highway 1 that isolated communities, worsened commutes and hurt tourism along the coast. And it permanently solves the problem in a way that protects the environment and the beauty of the San Mateo coast.”

The 30-foot wide tunnels required crews to remove around 11.4 million cubic feet of rock from inside the San Pedro Mountain.

Among the special features of the twin tunnels are special sensors that monitor heat, nitrous oxide and carbon monoxide levels and cameras that record traffic 24 hours a day. During emergencies, operators can even override car stereos to communicate information.

And in case you’re nostalgic for the old road, don’t worry. It will eventually be reused as a path for pedestrians and bikers.