Palo Colorado Road Repair Project

Restoring a community’s lifeline


County of Monterey

Big Sur, CA


Big Sur suffered a historic one-two punch in 2016: The summer’s three-month-long Soberanes Fire was followed by a record-breaking rainy season. In the winter, with soil loosened by the fire, debris came down the mountain as runoff and clogged the culverts where Palo Colorado Road crosses Rocky Creek and Brandon Creek. The creek eventually blew out part of the road—cutting off 60 homes from stores, schools and workplaces. Governor Brown, followed quickly by President Trump, declared the area, along with many others impacted by the weather, a disaster.

Monterey County Public Works quickly addressed the emergency by establishing repairs along the half mile stretch of road as it raced to develop a permanent solution that would restore the road and improve crossings at both Rocky and Brandon Creeks. For this critical task, the County selected Harris & Associates to provide project management, environmental documentation and permitting, surveying, geotechnical assessment, preliminary design, community outreach and final PS&E.

Core Elements

With a laser focus on completing the Rocky Creek crossing before the next rainy season, the project is compressing a year and half worth of work into six months. The Harris team’s vast experience with post-disaster restoration gave County officials confidence they could meet this accelerated schedule.

Harris presented three alternatives for the Rocky Creek crossing that reflected the complexity of designing solutions for this location: a bridge slab, a box culvert and a metal arch culvert. The County chose the latter for ease of building and cost efficiency. The construction managers on the Harris team were able to provide valuable direction about feasibility during the design phase—a luxury that few firms bring to the table.

During construction of the new, wider culvert, Harris will add drainage improvements and repair the road condition via stabilization and repaving.

To expedite progress, Harris staff will draw on their thorough knowledge of the environmental permitting process, as well as our strong relationship with permitting expert, ICF Jones and Stokes. The Harris Team is also helping to coordinate the demands of seven state and federal agencies and laying the groundwork for the County’s eventual FEMA reimbursement.

Beyond the Blueprints

Installing the new culverts will require removing 11 mature redwood trees. By law, project stakeholders must replace these trees at a 6:1 ratio and monitor them for 5 to 10 years. Since the area’s canopy is dense, there is no way to plant the new trees in the immediate vicinity. So Harris is instead coordinating with the Big Sur Land Trust, which will plant the trees through a project that’s already part of the Soberanes Fire recovery.