Wednesday, February 10 , 2016, 8:02 am | Fair 48º

Years-Long Highway 101 Improvement Project Testing Patience of Some Local Drivers

Construction between Milpas Street and Hot Springs Road, which began in July 2008, is expected to completed by early summer

A driver passes under Highway 101 at Milpas Street on Monday. Transportation improvements on Highway 101 between Milpas Street and Hot Springs Road are expected to be completed by early summer.
A driver passes under Highway 101 at Milpas Street on Monday. Transportation improvements on Highway 101 between Milpas Street and Hot Springs Road are expected to be completed by early summer.  (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

By Lara Cooper, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @laraanncooper |

Construction has long been under way on Highway 101 between Milpas Street and Hot Springs Road, and patience may be wearing thin among some Santa Barbara County drivers — if reader emails to Noozhawk are any indication.

“It’s crazy how long this project is taking, and considering the traffic mess, it causes a significant headache to thousands,” one reader wrote. “They build cities in China faster than we can finish a four-lane bridge.”

Noozhawk checked in with Kirsten Ayars, the community outreach liaison for the multiagency project, to confirm whether the work is on schedule and when drivers can expect to see it finished.

“The project started in July 2008 and was always scheduled to take four years to complete,” Ayars said Monday.

It’s a big project, and Ayars estimated that the project will be completed by early this summer.

The operational improvements taking place between Milpas and Hot Springs include the reconstruction of two major interchanges, six new or improved bridges, freeway widening, and improvements to local streets and pedestrian pathways.

The $57 million project is funded by Proposition 1B, $13 million in Measure D funding, as well as state and federal gas taxes. It’s a joint effort of the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments, Caltrans, and the City of Santa Barbara highway and local street improvement program.

The project is actually ahead of schedule at this point, with many of the improvements opening early — including the Montecito Roundabout. However, plenty of work is continuing.

“Most recently, there has been a lot of work on Highway 101 to finish up the median improvements and safety barriers on the new bridges,” Ayars said. “This is a large project with a lot of components. To some it may look like the project is almost finished, and it is.”

But there is still a significant amount of work to do under the bridges at Milpas and Cacique streets. The Milpas Street bridges need to be sandblasted and sealed, and the sidewalks, handrails and gutters also need to be completed, along with curbs and gutters. This will take a few months to complete.

Many minor details also need to be wrapped up.

The sidewalks in the area have been poured, Ayars said, but the handrails and lights are being repainted, and the old cornstalk design had to be sent out of town to be refurbished.

With early summer as a ballpark date for the completion, weather will play a critical role as the project finishes up.

“One of the last items will be to repave the freeway,” Ayars said, “and we’ll need temperatures at night that consistently meet minimum standards in order to get that accomplished, as it is a multiple night component to get the paving done and restriped.”

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

» on 02.28.12 @ 12:06 PM

For those of us who live south of the Milpas overpass, it is frustrating to see that the lane additions are completed, apparently needing only resurfacing and lane striping to open (and removal of the temporary barriers) to allow traffic to move freely.  There has been little to no activity there for nearly a month.  Why not complete that part of the project even though the Milpas Street work beneath the overpass is not yet complete?

I called CalTrans for answers and got the same refrain: ” the project is not scheduled for completion until summer.”  Not helpful.

» on 02.28.12 @ 01:08 PM

It is a shame that all this money and effort didn’t do into decent rail and bus service that would have reduced the rush hour traffic flow.

» on 02.28.12 @ 01:46 PM

This project has been a monument to inefficiency, even by California standards.  Four years for this?  Really?  The most mind-numbingly stupid aspect was watching brand-new construction being ripped up to redo the Salinas exit/entry.  I wouldn’t care except that, as a taxpayer I’m actually paying for this, and I commute across it every day.  This project has gone on way too long - if you’re defending the absurd schedule of this project then you’re part of the problem.

» on 02.28.12 @ 01:50 PM

Having lived in LA, New York and San Francisco, I always find it amusing when people complain about the traffic in Santa Barbara! Stepping on the brakes for a nano-second or actually having to stop for more than a minute is a pleasant change! My thought is, if you do get stuck in a few minutes of traffic, throw on some great music and dance in your seat! It will make you smile, as well as the drivers around you!

And the improvements look beautiful! Great job so far!

» on 02.28.12 @ 01:50 PM

Well, at least it keep people employed. Of course, I never see anyone working under the bridge…

» on 02.28.12 @ 01:59 PM


They probably will complete the highway portion before they complete the work under the bridges.  However, what they have been working on for the last month (when you say there has been no activity) are the median barriers on both the bridges and the at-grade sections, which are the final steps in opening the lanes. 

Then again, they still have to overlay between Cabrillo and Cacique.  So it’s still going to be a while before all lane are open.  Then we can wait to merge at Hot Springs.

» on 02.28.12 @ 05:02 PM

Light traffic?  I’ve spent 80 minutes trying to get from Goleta to Carp on a summer evening - that’s 21 miles - and that’s world-class traffic.  I do appreciate the importance of jobs but common sense has to prevail - it’s a freeway for heaven’s sake, not an art project.

» on 02.28.12 @ 06:38 PM

It it weren’t for the Montecito objectionista this project would have been done 10 years ago.

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