Topanga Canyon Boulevard to reopen Sunday, months ahead of schedule

A road closure that cut off Topanga residents from their main route to the coast and forced long detours will reopen Sunday, months ahead of officials' initial estimate.

Gov. Gavin Newsom is set to announce Friday the expedited reopening of a stretch of Topanga Canyon Boulevard that was shut down after a landslide March 9 smothered the roadway with dirt, rocks and a car-sized boulder. That month, storms battered the area, causing widespread damage.

"I cannot overstate just how important it has been for the state and everyone involved to see Topanga Canyon Boulevard open as quickly and as safely as possible," Newsom said in a statement.

Also known as State Route 27, the roadway running from Pacific Coast Highway to the 118 Freeway is heavily traveled and scenic.

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Nestled in the Santa Monica Mountains, Topanga Canyon Boulevard connects Malibu with the western San Fernando Valley, and serves as the primary artery for residents of Topanga to access PCH. Local businesses, isolated by the closure, have suffered. Meanwhile, residents have had to take alternative routes that can add hours to commute times.

Residents' frustration was "understandable," said Lauren Wonder, a spokesperson for the California Department of Transportation. "It was a hardship for them to move around."

Topanga Canyon Boulevard is also the evacuation route for canyon residents, "making the reopening of this highway especially critical as fire season approaches," Newsom's office said in a news release.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Lindsey P. Horvath, whose district includes Topanga Canyon, applauded the reopening of the roadway.

“The state and county have coordinated in unprecedented ways to clear the landslide," she said in a statement. "Governor Newsom has delivered the resources necessary for 24/7 operations that have led to this early reopening. As summer kicks off, this is welcome news, and we know the work will continue at the same speed for a full reopening."

In partnership with the county’s Department of Economic Opportunity, Horvath said that local businesses significantly impacted by the road closure would be able to apply for relief grants up to $10,000.

“The Topanga Business Interruption Fund will give small business owners a boost while we also encourage customers to come back and shop Topanga this summer,” Horvath said.

Earlier this month, Newsom proclaimed a state of emergency to help secure federal funding to repair roads damaged by the fierce spring storms, including the two-lane highway.

Officials initially projected the closure of Topanga Canyon Boulevard between Grand View Drive and PCH would last until the fall.

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It turned out, however, that there was less dirt, rocks and other material to remove than anticipated and the landslide wasn't as deep as originally thought, according to Wonder.

Caltrans personnel couldn’t get to the slide area to make a more accurate estimate until the earth stopped moving, she said. The area remained unsafe for weeks.

Crews ultimately removed about 15,000 cubic yards of material — much less than the 50,000 to 90,000 they thought they would have to contend with, she said.

The type of slide that occurred is what’s known as translational, which Wonder described as "kind of like a tablecloth sliding off the table." In other words, just the top layer of soil came down.

Once the slide came to a halt and visual assessments were made, an access road was built adjacent to the area, she said.

This allowed crews to get heavy equipment to the site and begin digging from the top down, she said.

It was still a sizable landslide, believed to be larger than another major one that occurred there in the 1940s, officials said.

According to the governor’s office, crews worked around the clock seven days a week to stabilize the area and clear the roadway.

"Thanks to the diligent efforts by the state along with crews assisting on the ground and the support of locals," Newsom said, "this repair work has exceeded all our expectations by opening months ahead of initial estimates."

On Sunday, both lanes of the road will open. There may be occasional one-way traffic control measures to complete additional repairs, officials said.

Wonder said crews might plant seeds or put cable mesh on the hill in an effort to prevent more material from coming down in that area.

“It is a constantly moving area, so we are doing our best,” Wonder said. “We are always monitoring so that we can preserve [and] protect the safety of motorists. Will this happen again? It could.”

A temporary traffic light installed on one-way Tuna Canyon Road at PCH — a detour route to the coast — will remain up for a while, she said.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.