While much media attention in the Tri-Counties has been focused on the Thomas fire and mudslides that shut Highway 101 over the winter, San Luis Obispo County’s tourism economy has been hard hit by a slide-related closure that cut off access to Big Sur and lasted 18 months.
A year and a half after a vast mud flow shut Highway 1, the scenic coastal drive along the Central Coast was set to open as this issue of the Business Times went to press.
The closing of Highway 1 added hours of detours to the southbound trip from Big Sur and isolated parts of Northern San Luis Obispo County, including the Hearst Castle in San Simeon, typically one of the region’s most popular tourist destinations.
It particularly hurt business activity from Morro Bay to Cambria, SLO County communities that are heavily dependent on tourists, particularly visitors from abroad.
Highway 1 has been closed since heavy rains in the winter of 2016-17 triggered record debris flows that cut off nearly a quarter-mile of highway near Mud Creek.
CalTrans came up with an innovative solution to strengthen the slide area, cap it with a new road and move Highway 1 to the west and over the top of the debris flow.
A dedicated crew worked round the clock to reopen the highway a few months ahead of the planned September 2018 opening; bridges were rebuilt as well.
The total project cost $54 million, and it represents a terrific engineering feat for the CalTrans crew and the Central Coast.
Given the extreme disruption of the past winter, the opening of Highway 1 could not come at a better time.
It will give travel and tourism a boost from Ventura County right through to Santa Barbara and Monterey counties, put one of the world’s greatest driving and bicycling routes back on line and give the region’s marketing efforts a big boost.
Welcome back Highway 1. We’ve missed your twists and curves.
FAREWELL TO SUNG WON SOHN
One of the underappreciated assets on the Central Coast has been Sung Won Sohn, a veteran bank economist and head of the Institute for Global Economic Research at CSU Channel Islands.
The understated native of Korea mixed a keen eye for detail with a dry wit he picked up at countless dinner talks he gave while serving as chief economist for Norwest Bank of Minneapolis, which later became Wells Fargo.
“Dr. Sohn,” as he liked to be called, went on to a career in banking, academia and as vice chairman of successful global retailer Forever 21. His annual presentations at the Channel City Club’s program for corporate directors were well attended and educational.
Sohn’s last day was June 30 and he will be replaced by Assistant Professor of Economics Miguel Delgado Helleseter. Helleseter said he hopes to give IGER more of a regional focus, increase interaction with chambers of commerce and grow the number of student researchers.
One constant, he said, will be a tradition of strong outside presenters at IGER’s public policy forums. We welcome new IGER chief Helleseter and bid a fond farewell to a longtime friend.