Joe Rosato Jr. takes an early tour of area that used to be Highway One, but will soon be a public park with beautiful views.
If any place has earned its name, it’s the notorious coastal highway in San Mateo County known as Devil’s Slide.
Even back in the early 1900s, when the cliff-hugging Ocean Shore Railroad began hauling passengers from San Francisco to Half Moon Bay, the signs all pointed to trouble ahead.
“They had terrible problems,” said Chris Hunter, author of the book Ocean Shore Railroad. “They built the railroad and then rocks would fall on it and they’d have to stop all their commuter trains.”
So no one should’ve been surprised when the cliffs started raining boulders onto Highway One at Devil’s Slide, shutting down the roadway for months and turning parts of Half Moon Bay into a cul-de-sac.
When Caltrans opened the Devil’s Slide twin bypass tunnels last March, that notorious stretch of Highway One was finally retired for good -- sort of. In September, Caltrans will officially hand over the road to San Mateo County which plans to turn it into a park with walking and biking trails.
“It’d be a shame to have this great view and spectacular viewpoints and not do anything with them,” said Caltrans Spokesman Vince Jacala. “I think this is a great opportunity to do something.”
Before handing over the road, Caltrans installed parking lots on either side of the hill, along with a traffic light near the Southern end of the tunnels. The lots will hold about 40 cars. The county plans to spend another $2 million to cover the road with separate lanes for walkers and bicyclists.
"We want to make sure the traffic with the bicycles doesn’t interfere with the pedestrians,” said San Mateo County Supervisor Don Horsley, “and the pedestrians don’t interfere with the bicyclists.”
The trail boasts spectacular ocean views with nesting birds and rocky cliffs meandering along the Pacific Ocean.
Because cars weren’t allowed to stop on the highway, very few people got a chance to ponder those views.
“If you wanted to see the scenery you had to be the passenger in the car,” Horsley said.
The county plans to open the trail next March. But given its rocky past, trail users may want to keep an eye on the views overhead as well as outward. The cliffs lining the road are still primed to rain down rocks and boulders.
Horsley said county engineers will likely assess the stability of the hills and possibly add protective netting to prevent anyone from getting hurt.
“We’re going to have to live with it,” Horsley said. “and do whatever we can to make sure people aren’t injured at the same time.”
The other lingering issue is the potential for another landslide, like the one several years ago that swept out part of the roadway. Horsley said the county doesn’t have the money to repair the road, so any large-scale damage could shut down parts of the trail for good.
But once the new trail opens, an estimated 80,000 visitors a year will walk a road that many drivers used to dread.
“That’s why it’s called Devil’s Slide,” Jacala said. “Now we actually took something that is devilish and tamed it.”