The first new tunnel in California in 50 years is set to open soon in Pacifica.
A ceremonial parade of classic cars cruised through the new Tom Lantos Tunnels at Devil’s Slide to mark its opening, spewing a cloud of exhaust that triggered the tunnels’ new state-of-the-art exhaust fans.
Perhaps the moment wasn’t exactly the picturesque presentation Caltrans envisioned for its opening ceremony, but then again it bore the smudged fingerprints of a coastal community that fought tooth-and-nail for the tunnels over Caltrans’ original plans for a mountain bypass.
"It’s really a victory for the community," said Montara resident Kathryn Slater-Carter, "for the people who envisioned this, and started and worked for it despite what the government and the engineers were saying."
For 50 years, the plan to remedy the crumbling mountain highway called for a mountain bypass over Montara, with a four-lane highway running from San Francisco to San Luis Obispo.
But in 1970s nearby residents began pushing for the tunnels instead. Letters were written, signatures gathered and a successful initiative in the mid-90s signed the region’s preference for tunnels on the dotted line.
"People attended hearings and wrote letters," Peter Drekmeier, former campaign manager for the Devil’s Slide campaign said. "We created a website and organized and now 18 years later the tunnels finally opened."
The twin 4,200 foot tunnels at Devil’s Slide are expected to bring stability to a region where heavy rains have repeatedly washed-out the landslide-prone Highway One for months at a time.
"My son was in high school one year when it was closed in San Francisco," Slater-Carter said. "So it turned from a 45-minute commute into a three-hour one-way commute."
As the first highway tunnels built in California in 50 years, the project is decked-out with modern safety features including fans, 24-hour monitors and doors that allow safety personnel to quickly move from one tunnel to the other at numerous points.
"This is a road that is safer," Caltrans District Director Bijan Sartipi said, "that is reliable that you know when you get up in the morning, it is there."
Although the parade of classic cars and marching band ushered in the new tunnel, it wasn’t expected to officially open to the driving public until late Monday night or early Tuesday morning.
The tunnels are named for the late U.S. Representative Tom Lantos who along with Senator Barbara Boxer, helped secure the $493 million to fund the project. Lantos’ widow Annette Lantos was among the speakers at the opening celebration.
But following years of political battles, Slater-Carter had her own pet name for the project.
"I think this truly is the peoples’ tunnel," she said.