Some Montecito residents are calling on Caltrans to consider alternatives to a proposed carpool-lane project on Highway 101 that would pass through the community.
Caltrans wants to add the carpool lanes — also known as High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes — on an 11-mile stretch between Santa Barbara and Carpinteria to reduce congestion in the area.
But the three-mile span that would pass through Montecito has some residents concerned.
Caltrans 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.
Officials have said that the highway is too tightly constrained to keep the median planter that is there now, so no landscaping is the only option in the draft environmental impact report.
Residents also have raised concerns that only two interchanges will be rebuilt, when others along the highway also need to be overhauled. Caltrans has said it won’t make changes to the ramps unless they’re required for the new lanes.
A group gathered Tuesday night at a meeting hosted by the Montecito Association to hear what the group has to say about the plans.
The group’s transportation sub- committee has been meeting for over a year to study the project, and helped devise some alternatives to what Caltrans has put on the table.
“We’re not here to tell you whether they’re any good or whether they’re better, but to have something of this magnitude with no alternative to consider does not make any sense to us,” said Bob Short, the Montecito Association’s vice president, who led the presentation. Short was dubious that a HOV lane will help with traffic congestion.
No visuals were provided in the draft environmental report, so the group designed some impressive graphics of its own, and showed them to the audience Tuesday.
Short showed three alternatives for the Sheffield exit that were a combination of eliminating or keeping one or both of the onramps. The San Ysidro interchange, which Short called “the worst in Montecito,” and the Olive Mill Interchanges aren’t even listed in the EIR, he said.
Short also said that the agency hasn’t shown much flexibility in lane and shoulder widths to preserve the landscaping that now runs down the center of the highway.
The association also presented five alternatives for the span of road.
One plan, known as Configuration F, demolishes and reconstructs southbound overpass and traffic lanes, puts in new southbound ramps, and would require a signal or roundabout to be installed. Another plan is the same except that it would preserve the Hermosillo neighborhood, and demolish and reconstruct northbound overpasses and traffic lanes as well.
The visual impacts were also discussed Tuesday. The organization takes issues with the skyline trees and landscaping being removed, as well as the plan to eliminate the greenery that bisects the highway now.
The group will request Caltrans consider alternatives and provide missing information it says have not been given by Caltrans.
“It’s much too early to choose, in our opinion,” Short said.
He admonished the public to comment on the adequacy of the environmental impact report now, and then participate when local governments are considering the project for permits. Then, people can recommend what specific plans they’d like to see. Several people in the crowd expressed concern that Caltrans has already made a decision on what to do with Montecito’s span of highway.
“We’re not through until we’ve exhausted all of our political will,” said Ron Pulice, who sits on the transportation sub-committee. “I don’t want four years of construction that doesn’t give us more than we have now.”