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Big Sur bridge damaged by weather comes crashing down

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Failing bridge proved surprisingly sturdy when crews tried knocking it down

A crane standing at the edge of a recently collapsed canyon bridge. Kyle Evans

Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge on the Big Sur coastline, which closed in February after constant rain weakened it to the point that it started to visibly buckle, came down last week. Caltrans tore down the bridge in order to make way for a new one.

When Caltrans first tried to demolish the span it wouldn’t budge, despite being in danger of collapse all on its own. Crews dropped a 6,000 pound wrecking ball on the crumbling structure earlier this month, but it just wouldn’t fall down.

“The idea is for it to strike the bridge at a fairly rapid rate with a lot of force, but we’re just not seeing that,” a spokesperson told CBS SF at the time.

Eventually Caltrans brought in a machine know as a hoe ram (or simply a breaker), a powerful hydraulic hammer on the end of a crane arm, designed for busting tough concrete structures.

The Big Sur Blog observing the demolish job on Friday explained:

The machine that has been smashing the concrete on the bridge. The team has obliterated the concrete deck, leaving the twisted rebar to fall away. The demolition team are now up to the failing column. Once they have smashed the deck and supporting concrete and rebar away from the column the bridge will collapse.

But that didn’t work either. This time it was due to an equipment malfunction rather than the bridge itself. Strike two.

A third try with a repaired breaker on Saturday finally sent most of the damaged span sliding in one huge chunk into the canyon below in a decidedly gratifying scene:

Rebuilding the replacement bridge will take six to nine months to complete, costing an estimated $20 million.