A safer, stronger and wider California Incline reopens Sept. 1

By Gary Walker

A recent in-progress photo of the California Incline and Idaho Trail Pedestrian Crossing Photo courtesy of the City of Santa Monica

A recent in-progress photo of the California Incline and Idaho Trail Pedestrian Crossing
Photo courtesy of the City of Santa Monica

After nearly 17 months of day and night construction, the vital cliff-side pass that connects downtown Santa Monica traffic to the Pacific Coast Highway reopens next Thursday — just in time for Labor Day weekend.

The $18-milllion rebuild of the California Incline replaces the original 1930 structure, demolished in April 2015 due to seismic safety concerns.

The Sept. 1 reopening celebration has Santa Monica Mayor Tony Vasquez rededicating the California Incline at 9 a.m., followed by a public festival from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. that gives pedestrians free reign of the bridge to explore historic photo exhibits and an interactive Santa Monica Library activity booth. The roadway reopens to cars at 5 p.m. that day.

Vasquez, a Santa Monica native, anticipates feelings of nostalgia as he looks across the top of the newly completed California Incline.

“I think it will be a real thrill. It’ll be like déjà vu,” he said. “I’ll wonder how it looked to people before there were cars and other vehicles. In many ways, it’ll be kind of a historical moment.”

Traversed by as many as 15,000 vehicles per day before last year’s closure, the California Incline first existed as the Sunset Trail, a pedestrian walkway to the beach built in 1896.

The new California Incline preserves some of the aesthetic qualities of its vehicle-oriented 1930 predecessor, but the span has been widened to accommodate a 16-foot wide pedestrian and bicycle path separated from traffic.

Finishing the overhead Idaho Trail Pedestrian Crossing from Palisades Park to the beach took longer than expected, delaying the project from its targeted Memorial Day completion.

But the bulk of the project’s budget — $17 million of which came from the federal gasoline tax-funded Highway Trust Fund — covered new structural elements to make the California Incline more secure and seismically sound.

Workers drilled about 1,100 inch-thick steel tensioning rods into the bluff to secure the roadway, and the bridge portion’s concrete deck is now supported by 96 concrete piles that are two feet thick and 50 to 75 feet tall.

“We are thrilled to welcome the new, safer and stronger California Incline on the 120th anniversary of the Sunset Trail,” said Vazquez. “This vital link between Santa Monica and PCH demonstrates what federal dollars can do to support significant local infrastructure.”

“It’s one of the few routes from the north in Santa Monica. One of the most important things to consider about the new incline is that it’s been strengthened and gives people a more reliable way back into the city,” added Curtis Castle, a civil engineer with Santa Monica’s Public Works Department.

“It’s definitely one for the ages, and I worked on the Alaska Pipeline,” said Jeff McDermott of MCM Construction, the contractor that rebuilt to incline. “This project went pretty darn smooth, and it was one of the most team-oriented projects that I’ve ever been part of.”

Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance), who represents Santa Monica and brought Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to town last year as part of a push to reauthorize the Highway Trust Fund, said the city had done its part by providing initial funds and designing a sound construction plan.

“The California Incline is a prime example of what local governments can do for themselves and their surrounding region with help from the federal government,” Lieu said.

L.A. Leggers, a local running and walking club, had used the California Incline to train for  the Los Angeles Marathon and will continue that practice when it reopens. They’re looking forward to the wider pedestrian path.

“Before, the lanes were so narrow that people would have to go into the road or turn sideways to pass each other,” L.A. Leggers board member Maria Rodriguez said.