Highway 1 to temporarily lose traffic lane at Gleason Beach due to eroding cliff edge

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Caltrans has announced emergency plans to reduce Highway 1 to a single traffic lane along a stretch of crumbling Sonoma coastline at Gleason Beach until the roadway can be made safe for travel and, eventually, a more permanent fix is in place.

The switch to one-way traffic control is to begin Monday. It will involve erecting barriers in the southbound lane and using temporary stop lights to control traffic along a 1,200-foot section of Highway 1 between Bodega Bay and Jenner, according to a notice issued late last week.

Motorists should expect delays of five to 10 minutes passing through the area for at least “several months,” while crews pursue some temporary remedy to the continued retreat of the cliff edge, Caltrans said.

It’s not entirely clear what the plan is. However, Sonoma County Supervisor Lynda Hopkins said she understood from discussions with Caltrans officials that they were pursuing some type of coastal armoring to try to fend off additional erosion and shore up the landscape to restore two-lane traffic as quickly as possible.

“They recognize how critical it is to have two lanes open,” said Hopkins, whose district includes the Sonoma Coast.

The coastline at Gleason Beach has been sloughing away at a quickening pace for the past two decades. Twelve blufftop homes at the edge of the highway have collapsed or been removed since heavy El Niño rains in 1998 undercut the cliff enough to highlight the severity of the situation. Two more homes are red-tagged, deemed unsafe to occupy.

But with the past season’s extreme rainfall, huge chunks of ground have fallen away, alarming locals — many routinely drive in the oncoming lane, when it’s empty, to avoid that stretch of road.

“And to think our school buses go over that twice a day, five days a week,” Patty Ginochio, a prominent resident, noted earlier this year.

Caltrans has been developing a long-term, permanent solution to reroute the highway well inland — stymied by a variety of challenges, including sensitive habitat, private properties, Native American sites and high costs.

A controversial bypass plan the agency hoped to have approved a year ago called for an 850-foot bridge to carry the highway 400 feet inland and across a low-lying wetland area at Scotty Creek. The proposal, which would have created the largest built structure on the Sonoma Coast, was pulled from consideration by the California Coastal Commission at the last minute, though. Caltrans has not said anything publicly about it since, though Hopkins said negotiations related to right-of-way, property acquisitions and other matters remain ongoing behind the scenes.

“We certainly need to move forward with a long-term solution, because this continues to erode at a breathtaking speed,” Hopkins said. “At this point, we’re putting Band-Aids on an open heart wound. It’s a substantial problem that needs a permanent fix.”

Caltrans is scheduling a town hall meeting about its plans for the Gleason Beach area. Details were not immediately available Sunday.

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.

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