Wednesday, February 10 , 2016, 3:09 am | Fair 48º

Ribbon-Cutting Marks Long-Awaited Highway 101 Improvements

Four years in the making, newly opened lanes south of Santa Barbara are already relieving chronic congestion

State, Santa Barbara County and city officials gather Monday to cut the ribbon on the newly completed Cacique Street undercrossing.
State, Santa Barbara County and city officials gather Monday to cut the ribbon on the newly completed Cacique Street undercrossing.  (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

By Lara Cooper, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @laraanncooper |

With the sweet swooshes of cars speeding down the road in the background, about 250 people gathered beneath Highway 101 in Santa Barbara on Monday for the official dedication of a massive highway-improvement project that has been under construction for four years.

The ceremony marked a milestone in Santa Barbara’s decades-long effort to reduce congestion on Highway 101, a major statewide thoroughfare that bisects Santa Barbara and the South Coast.

Drivers already have been enjoying the improved traffic flow, as a third lane in each direction south of Milpas Street opened up last week.

The project — which stretches from Milpas to Hot Springs Road — was a huge undertaking that included the reconstruction of two major interchanges, six new or improved bridges, freeway widening and the Montecito roundabout. A new interchange also was built to connect Cacique Street under the freeway, allowing Eastside residents a way to walk to the beach more directly.

The $57 million project is the largest undertaken by Caltrans in Santa Barbara County to date, one that took nearly 16 years to plan, according to Tim Gubbins, Caltrans deputy director of project management, whose region includes Santa Barbara.

“I think we can be very proud of where we are today,” he said.

The crowd gathered at the northern end of Highway 101’s traffic bottleneck, according to Jim Kemp, executive director of the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments.

“I think we all know what kind of traffic conditions exist to the south of where this project is,” he said.

This segment is the first phase of widening Highway 101 from Milpas Street to Mussel Shoals in Ventura County. Work has already begun on the second phase — improvements at the northern end of Ventura County up to Carpinteria Creek.

Phase three involves a reconstruction of the Casitas Pass and Linden Avenue interchanges in Carpinteria, which is necessary to accommodate the future widening of the highway, Kemp said. That phase of the project is fully funded, and construction is expected to start in 2015.

Phase four will close out the bottleneck between Santa Barbara and Carpinteria, and is expected to start construction in 2016. Part of that project includes the addition of carpool or high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes on the South Coast, and that draft environmental review is available for public viewing now; click here to read Noozhawk’s story.

“We are making tremendous progress,” he said.

Santa Barbara County First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal recalled that he was working as an aide in former Supervisor Naomi Schwartz’s office in the 1990s when the discussions were going on about the project.

“It almost feels like these projects never come to fruition,” he said. “That’s the nature of transportation funding and transportation projects.”

The project has been a partnership of multiple organizations, including the city and county of Santa Barbara, the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments and Caltrans.

The project received $13 million in funding from Measure D, a sales-tax that funds transportation projects, which Carbajal called “a reminder of why we tax ourselves.”

Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider thanked businesses and residents in the area for their patience during the construction. 

“We know it wasn’t easy, we know it probably had some impact on your daily lives and work here, but we know also that now you’re going to see the benefits of it,” she said. “It’s such a better area because of the work that we’ve done. This is truly a milestone for our whole region.”

Alan Bleecker, president of the Milpas Community Association, said the improvements will have a positive impact on traffic flow, and the Cacique Street underpass will also relieve pressure on the Milpas roundabout.

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 04.03.12 @ 01:34 PM

This addition to our transportation infrastructure will make many people’s lives less stressful. I have driven this stretch of the 101 recently and enjoyed the experience. When the project is complete we will be able to continue the current pattern of bringing workers to our local businesses, the majority enjoying the comfort and convenience of their cars as they travel one at a time to and from their places of employment.

All of his pleasure and convenience will make it much easier to avoid developing alternate, less expensive, less polluting and less dangerous forms of transport until we are forced to do so by some future economic or environmental crisis.  And we won’t have to put up with the unpleasantness of building affordable housing in our local area either. 

Sixteen years, and this is the best plan our shortsighted visionaries could accomplish, but it is us, not they, who are to blame. Yes, I too love my car and the sense of freedom it affords me.

» on 04.03.12 @ 03:14 PM

“Sweet”?  I do applaud the efforts of Caltrans and our locals to make the freeway (freeway?) a more accessible traffic byway, but I would not use the term “sweet” shoosh of cars and wonder how long it will be before this improvement will be sufficient to handle the ever-increasing traffic.  When, oh when, will we ever be able to enter a light rail or bus lane (which runs more frequently than one hour or longer at a time) to go from here to Ventura, or points in between, or up north, or to LA or anywhere?

» on 04.03.12 @ 06:52 PM

What a bunch of civil servant losers on the dole..They could never make it in the real world-Kemp and the rest.Cut their pay in half and they still will make more than the people who pay them (you.)

Tax-payers are being screwed with their over staffing-wages, time off, spiking of pensions, early retirement, cars, gas , phones—they all say they are on call 24/7 >> funny stuff..

» on 04.04.12 @ 03:28 PM

The only thing massive about this project was the inefficiency and overt stupidity foisted onto the taxpayers.  Four years schedule for a project of this scope is silly on the face of it, and the benefit for the time and money spent is marginal.  And it’s not over - we’ll be seeing CalTrans at “work” for the next 8 years or more as they bumble their way towards adding one politically correct “HOV” lane in each direction from Mussel Shoals to Montecito.  Watching (and paying for)  CalTrans rip up brand new construction to redo the Salinas exit kind of summarizes things for me - does anyone really think this was a well-done project?

» on 04.05.12 @ 01:38 PM

Let’s see… IN 1910 it took only 10 years to cut the Panama Canal over 50 miles through jungle and with a raised lock system. We took only 10 years to get to the freakin’ moon. But these circus clowns pride themselves in creating a cluster fruster over a 16 year period that only pushes the funnel 2 miles downstream.  No. You do not deserve respect for being over-planning zealots with no concept of comon sense.

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