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Scenic Calif. Highway Reopens

May 1, 1998

BIG SUR, Calif. (AP) _ With an appropriate dash of glitz, Big Sur residents watched a vintage orange Rolls Royce reopen rugged Highway 1 after a 13-week closure forced by El Nino-driven storms.

The first car to cross the majestic Bixby Creek Bridge into Big Sur _ on the Pacific Coast south of San Francisco _ was Dio Roberts’ 1959 classic British car, which also reopened the highway the last time storms closed it in 1983.

The state gave the go-ahead Thursday to once again allow traffic along one of the most scenic stretches of road in the country, to the relief _ and regret _ of residents of the tourist-dependent region.

``Actually, it was a lot of fun for us who are locals who don’t have businesses here,″ said Roberts, who lives in the Big Sur area and works in Carmel. ``But for the businesses it was hard to get through.″

The 1,400 residents of Big Sur had endured near-isolation and huge economic losses since early February. Cut off north and south from the vital flow of tourism, their stores, restaurants and inns sat empty.

Some children could not get to school and the loss to the local economy was estimated at $100,000 a day, or more than $8.5 million in all, said Laura Moran, president of the Big Sur Chamber of Commerce.

Still, longtime Big Sur resident Alison Burleigh had decidedly mixed feelings about the reopening.

``There’s a strong feeling that when the road is open, the quiet is gone,″ Burleigh said.

This winter’s record rainfall brought the most extensive destruction in the 60-year history of the world-famous route, washing out 40 sections of highway in the 70-mile stretch from Carmel to San Simeon. The repair cost, originally estimated at $7 million, has grown to $16 million.

``This is not the stablest region in California,″ said engineer R.J. Brown. ``There are slide areas all along the coast here, like constant sores all along the highway.″

Much roadwork remains to be done. Highway 1 will remain closed from 10 miles south of the town of Big Sur south to the San Luis Obispo County line until just before Memorial Day, as workers continue repairing some 20 damaged sections of road.

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