Part of California highway near Big Sur falls into the sea

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Saturday, March 19, 2011

Big Sur coast at Bixby Creek Bridge

A 40-foot section of scenic Highway 1 about 12 miles south of Carmel, California crumbled into the Pacific Ocean on Wednesday, preventing access to the popular tourist area of Big Sur from the north.

The collapse of the southbound lane of the two-lane highway, also known as the Pacific Coast Highway, follows several days of rain. The soil under the northbound lane is also in danger of giving way. Drivers heading north were blocked at the Bixby Creek Bridge; the rest of the road has been closed to traffic indefinitely. A long closure is expected to hurt the tourist business upon which Big Sur and and the tiny surrounding communities depend.

The California Highway Patrol (CHP) said no one was injured.

The section that collapsed is on a curve south of the Rocky Creek Bridge, where the highway clings to the scenic Santa Lucia Mountains, and near the Bixby Creek Bridge, one of the "iconic" arch bridges that make this stretch of the highway with its dramatic vistas such a well-known scenic drive.

The cause of the collapse was not apparent as the road surface looked new, and no seeping water was visible. "It's basically just nature," a CHP officer said.

With Highway 1 closed, drivers wishing to access Big Sur from the north could go inland on Highway 101 and pass through the Salinas Valley. To return to the coast drivers must pass over a steep, winding mountainous road. This route adds at least an hour to the journey.