It appears that later this month the "coast is clear" for those hoping to travel through the Devil's Slide twin tunnels, as a grand opening date for the $440 million, eight-year project has been slated for March 25.
The invitation-only grand opening will bring people who worked hard to push the tunnel project through, according to Charise McHugh, CEO of the Half Moon Bay Chamber of Commerce and chair of the grand opening ceremonies for the tunnels project.
The event will bring together more than 400 attendees, a lot of speakers, the Half Moon Bay High School Band and the Terra Nova High School Band in Pacifica.
Billed as a "win-win" for all, the grand opening of this huge Caltrans project, named the Tom Lantos Tunnels after the late Congressman who lobbied for the project, is a welcomed event for business owners, coastal residents and tourists alike.
Rick Ellis, who has run The Old Thyme Inn on Half Moon Bay's Main Street for 15 years, said that although it will remain to be seen if the tunnels' opening increases business, "it will certainly remove the fear of that access to this portion of the coast side being closed as a result of storm damage, which has happened a great deal in the past." He added, "I think it will be fun and an interesting thing to drive through the tunnels there, and it's certainly going to allow people to come down and maybe take advantage of the many things to do here," Ellis said.
According to San Mateo County Supervisor Don Horsley, who prior to being elected District 3 supervisor served as the county sheriff for 14 years, the opening of the tunnels is a very welcomed safety addition to the coast side.
"The tunnel is safer and a more direct route, which will make for a much less heart palpitating drive," he said. "It's a beautiful, scenic drive, but you don't dare look over the side."
Horsley said during his time as sheriff, he witnessed many horrific and deadly accidents, leading people to refer to this stretch of roadway as the Devil's Slide.
"The new tunnels make for a much safer and more reliable drive for all drivers," he said, "And now we won't have to worry about a rock in the road or roadway damage leading us to have to close the road for four to six months here and there."
The twin tunnels were the result of a major planning project following a decades-long problem of numerous rockslides and slip outs following large storms. Long and short-term closures resulted in major traffic snarls, increased commute times and in losses to the local business economy, according to Caltrans District 4 spokesman Bob Haus.
"There were times the highway was closed for some time and this had a terrible affect on local economies," Haus said.
According to Caltrans, Highway 1 at Devil's Slide has been closed eight times since its 1937 opening due to storm damage to its unique location.
In May 2005, Caltrans broke ground on the project, which reroutes a portion of state Highway 1 through two 4,200-foot-long tunnels and bypasses a hazardous rock and mudslide region between Pacifica and McNee Ranch State Park in Montara. The project, originally slated to cost an estimated $270 million in 2005 has totaled nearly $440 million.
Opening ceremonies will begin at 11 a.m. on that Monday at the South Portal. Those in attendance must park at the Half Moon Bay Airport and take a shuttle bus to the location of the opening ceremonies, according to Haus.
Aside from Caltrans vehicles, the first vehicles to inaugurate the tunnels will be a series of antique cars representing each era from 1912 to 2013, which will parade through the tunnels and stop at the Pillar Point Harbor after the ceremonies, McHugh said.
The public will not be able to drive through the tunnels until several hours later, when they officially open, weather permitting, Haus said.
McHugh said she feels the perception that the coast will be easier to reach will be enormous.
"This was a big safety issue and it's nice to know that this will not turn into the largest cul-de-sac every six years," she said. "A lot of people don't want to drive Devil's Slide and now can drive from the city very safely."
— Bay City News Service
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