PCH: Since It's There, It's Got to Be Fixed

It's already too late for the only real solution to the problems caused by Pacific Coast Highway's narrow route through Malibu. "If there weren't a highway there, we probably wouldn't build one," said Allan Hendrix, Caltrans deputy director for planning in Los Angeles, Ventura and Orange counties.

But the road is there, and because it is, state agencies and advisory commissions have issued scores of suggestions on just how to handle it.

Here are some of them:

Pacific Coast Freeway--In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the state planned to replace the Malibu portion of PCH with a freeway. But the notion was so controversial that it was deleted from state plans in the early 1970s. "There would have been heavy damage to the community," Hendrix said.

Double-decker freeway--An express roadway connecting with major canyon routes would have been elevated above the existing road, which would have been for local access. But the top tier might not withstand a landslide, the state concluded. Still, an internal Caltrans report suggested in August, 1984, that the idea "should be reconsidered if traffic volumes exceed the anticipated growth."

Mountain expressway--Cutting through the hills parallel to PCH has been proposed several times, but the project would significantly damage the environment in an area where state and national parkland is being acquired. Besides, "that highway up there would not handle most of what the trips are for: the beach, the residences, the community development," Hendrix said.

Ocean causeway--Twenty years ago, when there was discussion of putting a highway on a bridge in the water off Malibu, the cost was about $1 billion, Hendrix said. "It would be even more costly today," he said. "The technical feasibility is at best marginal and the environmental damage is horrendous." Beach dwellers complained that their views would be destroyed, but Malibu Chamber of Commerce President Waiva Micheletti still thinks "it would be beautiful at night with all those twinkling lights" from passing cars.

Tollbooths, meters and/or narrowing of canyon roads. These three were aimed at commuters from the San Fernando Valley, who make up 20% of PCH traffic. But even if all of them would be discouraged by such measures--no foregone conclusion--"I'm not sure it would work politically," said David Roper, Caltrans district deputy director for operations.

More mass transit--This is the most outlandish suggestion of all, according to many familiar with Malibu. A temporary water taxi service between Santa Monica and Malibu piers drew few customers during a 1979 landslide at Big Rock that closed PCH for weeks. If the Southern California Rapid Transit District improves service to Malibu, it would get the same lack of response, at least from the generally wealthy residents, predicted Lt. Jerry Rudy of the California Highway Patrol's Malibu post. "You can't ask Neil Diamond to get on a bus," Rudy said.

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