She was the last one in a long line of speakers at the Devil’s Slide Tunnels Project Grand Opening Celebration on Monday, but Moss Beach resident Zoe Kersteen-Tucker, spokesperson for the Citizen's Alliance for the Tunnel, said it all: "Hooray! It's the people's tunnel. We did it!"
In a victorious, tearful moment, waving her yellow bumper sticker from the Measure T campaign that read "Think Tunnel,” she asked all the pro-tunnel advocates — known as the "tunnelistas" — to stand up, and she thanked them for their campaign work, calling them "rabble rousers, activists and crusaders."
Several dozen tunnelistas attended Monday’s ribbon-cutting, many of them from Montara and Moss Beach who experienced the six-month Highway 1 road closure in 1995 and as a result worked tirelessly to bring the issue to San Mateo County voters, who in 1996 passed Measure T and launched the planning process for what would become the state's newest tunnel to be built since Oakland's Caldecott Tunnel in 1964.
“This tunnel is for the people and the generations that follow. It finally happened,” said Ann Forrister from Moss Beach. “Our vision for Devil’s Slide was finally made a reality.”
“We’re celebrating today but the tunnels are a compromise. We tried for a less invasive solution to Devil’s Slide, but a bypass over Montara Mountain was out of the question,” said Montara resident Chris Thollaug.
Hundreds more gathered on the coastal San Mateo County hillside to celebrate the opening of the two tunnels that will replace a notorious stretch of state Highway 1 at Devil's Slide.
The event marked the completion of the $439 million Tom Lantos Tunnels, which are named after the late U.S. Rep. Tom Lantos, whose former Congressional seat is now filled by Jackie Speier. The tunnels bypass a steep, winding portion of coastal highway between Pacifica and Half Moon Bay that has long been susceptible to rockslide-related closures.
Addressing the crowd, Malcolm Dougherty, director of Caltrans, said "Today we mark the start of a new chapter for both Caltrans and the local communities. No longer will local residents and businesses have to worry about severe winter storms closing the road and disrupting their lives."
Dougherty then introduced each of the speakers before the ribbon cutting, including state Sen. Jerry Hill, who reminded the audience that one of the most devastating landslides along Devil's Slide forced a closure of Highway 1 that lasted for several months in 1995.
The closure turned Pacifica into "the world's biggest cul-de-sac" and generated momentum to find a permanent solution to traveling safely and securely through the area all year round.
Caltrans had initially proposed an overland by-pass route east of the troubled roadway, a proposal that met with fierce opposition from local citizens who were concerned about the impact of constructing a four-lane highway over Montara Mountain.
Speier, who called the tunnels "a new landmark" and "the Golden Gate Bridge of the south," acknowledged the dedication of lawmakers and county residents who helped make the tunnel project a reality.
"Tunnel vision is sometimes the broadest vision of them all," she said.
State Senator Leland Yee said of the tunnels: "It's been a very expensive, expensive, expensive project for me, but a very important one."
Lantos' widow Annette Lantos fought back tears as she recalled her late husband's efforts to get the massive infrastructure project started.
"It's very sad to be here without my husband," she said. "I just hope that, from some perspective, he's watching us."
"He would be so happy to know that it bears his name," she said.
The City of Pacifica's mayor Len Stone acknowledged the "graciousness, purpose and forthrightness" that the community upheld in making the tunnel happen.
The ceremony continued with a ribbon cutting in front of the southern portal and concluded with a parade through the southbound bore that was led by the Half Moon Bay High School and Terra Nova High School marching bands, playing "California Here I Come."
The band was followed by a caravan of mostly vintage cars that included a Ford Model T, a DeLorean, a Volkswagen Vanagon and the San Mateo County Book Mobile.
Sometime between Monday tonight and Tuesday morning, traffic from Highway 1 will be permanently diverted into the tunnels, according to Caltrans.
The abandoned stretch of Highway 1 will eventually become a hiking, biking, and pedestrian trail maintained by San Mateo County.
Additional reporting by Christa Bigue.
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