MONTARA -- Gentlemen, turn off your engines. Ribbon-cutters, holster your shears.
Motorists who plan to drive in a parade marking the opening of the twin Devils Slide bypass tunnels -- and politicians awaiting a sweet photo opp -- will have to wait a couple months longer due to yet another delay wrapping up the ambitious, roughly half-a-billion-dollar project.
Caltrans aimed to finish by early December, but local and county officials on Monday said the completion date has been pushed back into the early part of 2013. It's at least the third holdup for the project, which required boring two 4,200-foot tunnels through a mountain that towers above the surf between Pacifica and Half Moon Bay.
Although the tunnels were originally slated to open in late 2010 or early 2011, locals involved with the undertaking seem to be absorbing the latest deferral in stride. Mitch Reid, an organizer of the vehicle parade, campaigned for the 1996 ballot measure that required Caltrans to build the tunnel rather than a freeway bypass.
"We've been waiting 15 years, so a couple extra months isn't a big deal," Reid said. "I'm fine with the delays as long as they make sure everything's good and safe."
County officials said the time extension is related to safety and electronics testing, including the ventilation system and cameras monitoring activity inside the tunnel. Once those are complete, Caltrans must finish the road connections between Highway 1 and the tunnels.
Caltrans is now looking at a possible opening date of late January or early February, said Assistant County Manager Dave Holland. Bill Kehoe, chairman of the Midcoast Community Council, an elected advisory body for the coast, said Caltrans told him only that it would be sometime in the first quarter of 2013. State offices were closed Monday for Veterans Day, and Caltrans representatives did not return messages seeking comment.
Kehoe, who has worked for years as a software engineer, said he was neither bothered nor surprised by the technology-related postponement.
"I have never been on a software contract in my life," Kehoe noted, "that has met its deadline."
The plan for the bypass tunnels came out of decades-long frustration with Devils Slide, a landslide-prone stretch of Highway 1 along coastal cliffs just north of Montara. The road was closed for five months in 1995 after a winter storm caused a section of the roadway to crumble.
The cost of the tunnels alone has climbed from $272 million to $439 million. A new bridge that spans a valley below the northern entrance ran about $40 million.
Contact Aaron Kinney at 650-348-4357. Follow him at Twitter.com/kinneytimes.
A new exhibit at the San Mateo County History Museum explores the history of transportation at Devils Slide. "The People's Tunnel" runs through May 12. The museum is located at 2200 Broadway in Redwood City. For more information, call 650-299-0104 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.