Millions spent to make sure Pacific Coast Highway withstands El Niño

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Work crews remove mud and debris from a mudflow that closed Pacific Coast Highway between Las Posas and Yerba Buena roads in Ventura County in December 2014. (Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

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SANTA MONICA, Calif. – When El Niño storms hit Southern California, Pacific Coast Highway is the first line of battle between man and nature.

This scenic ribbon of asphalt, sandwiched by steep mountains on one side and ocean on the other, has fought with rock slides and erosion since it was built almost a century ago.

El Niño rains of the past have left portions of the coastal route battered. But they also have given transportation engineers and local officials lessons in how to make PCH more stable as California faces what experts forecast will be one of the strongest El Niños on record.

In recent years, officials have spent millions of dollars in creative engineering to strengthen PCH against a double threat: rocks and heavy rain coming down the coastal mountains and high surf crashing in from the ocean. Steel rock netting, concrete debris barriers and fortified sea walls now adorn the iconic route from Santa Monica to Ventura, the highway’s roughly 30 most perilous miles.

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