Several hundred people packed into a ballroom at the Montecito Country Club on Tuesday night to hear from Caltrans officials about proposed carpool lanes on Highway 101 between Santa Barbara and Carpinteria.
Caltrans wants to add the carpool lanes — also known as High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes — on an 11-mile stretch between the two cities to reduce congestion in the area.
But the project’s draft environmental impact report states that the noise and visual impacts of the project would be significant. Noise levels are expected to increase in the project area between zero and three decibels, and Caltrans has said it will install a special type of pavement and sound walls in certain places to minimize the sound.
That increase in noise seems to be the biggest concern of residents examining the project.
“Our current noise level in that area is high. We recognize that,” said Scott Eades, Caltrans project manager, who ran through an overview of the project with the crowd.
Noozhawk cornered environmental planner Jason Wilkinson afterward to ask what zero to three decibels would mean to a person living nearby.
That increase is “barely perceptible to the human ear,” Wilkinson said, adding that many of the places along the project corridor are already experiencing up to 75 decibels of highway noise, such as near Jamison Road and Ortega Hill.
Wilkinson said up to 10 decibels of sound will be reduced with the sound walls and the special pavement, mitigating the increase. However, the project originally had 27 sound walls slated for the area but has scaled back to 15 because of cost.
With the HOV lane changes, Eades said, drivers will see a time savings of 19 minutes on northbound trips and 10 minutes heading southbound.
Eades encouraged the audience to contribute to the public comment. After reviewing the feedback, Caltrans will select an option by this fall, and the final EIR will be certified next spring. Construction is slated to begin in 2016.
“Now’s the time to influence Caltrans’ process,” Eades told the audience.
Victoria Greene, executive director of the Montecito Association, said she’s concerned about the lack of landscaping slated for Montecito.
The agency is looking at three alternatives for the span of highway, each with varying amounts of landscaping and right of way. But most of Montecito has only one option available to it because homes back up so closely to the highway.
“We are tightly constrained,” Eades said. “We don’t have room to add a median planter.”
A second public meeting is scheduled for 5 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday in the cafeteria at Carpinteria High School, 4810 Foothill Road.
The Montecito and Santa Barbara County Planning Commissions will also hold a joint hearing on this project on May 2 at 10:30 a.m. The meeting will be held at the Santa Barbara County Administration Building, 105 E. Anapamu St.
Public comment is welcome and will be on the record and the meeting will also be televised.
The Montecito Association also will hold a public forum to hear comments on the proposed plan at 5 p.m. May 1 at El Montecito Presbyterian Church, 1455 East Valley Road.