Caltrans has said that it plans to issue a recommendation on the Highway 101 widening project very soon, but the local debate is far from over for the proposed carpool lane.
Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty has made it clear that the state wants to move forward with the support of the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments.
Although Dougherty said a recommendation letter would be coming this week, it appears Caltrans will hold off and have yet another meeting with the Montecito Association and Common Sense 101 Coalition, which was created to oppose the current plan.
Caltrans has been systematically eliminating left-side on-ramps and off-ramps due to safety issues, which irked the Montecito Association. The Common Sense 101 Coalition was born, and its organizers have been lobbying heavily in Sacramento ever since for their “community alternative” project plan.
Caltrans is working with SBCAG on the 10-mile project from Santa Barbara to Carpinteria, which is funded with local and state money. Caltrans plans to add a third lane, which would become a carpool lane, and to modify the Cabrillo and Sheffield interchanges. The “F Modified” option would add a northbound off-ramp at Cabrillo Boulevard, improve the northbound on-ramp, and build a new southbound on-ramp and off-ramp to the right.
The Los Patos Way exit would be closed, since so many trucks ignore signs and hit the Union Pacific Railroad bridge that has only 12 feet of clearance.
After Noozhawk reported that Dougherty was close to a recommendation last week, First District County Supervisor Salud Carbajal called Dougherty and asked him to hold off on the recommendation until the safety of left-side ramps was discussed.
“I would hope that you wouldn’t issue anything until meetings are held and substantive discussions take place,” Carbajal recalled saying.
It’s a reversal from a few weeks ago, when Carbajal wrote a letter to Caltrans asking for a decision to be made as soon as possible. He said he now asks for a delay because he thinks the expectation of a safety-data discussion with the Montecito Association and Caltrans wasn’t met.
“I want good process and good analysis, and then we can make good decisions,” Carbajal said.
He and several Santa Barbara city officials were invited to a Friday meeting with Caltrans District 5 Director Tim Gubbins and members of the Common Sense 101 Coalition.
Friday’s meeting will focus on the left-side ramps, which the city hasn’t taken a position on, although Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider has attended meetings with the Montecito Association, according to Assistant City Administrator Paul Casey. He and Schneider plan to attend Friday’s meeting.
“The city has been invited,” Casey said. “We’re not really a key player, but we’re curious about it as well.”
Coalition leader Ron Pulice, who has been to Sacramento seven times in the last year and a half, said the meeting will cover accident and safety data.
He and the other coalition members believe they were promised a meeting to discuss traffic and accident analysis of the left-side ramps, but say they haven’t had it yet. Pulice argues that the left-hand ramps have lower-than-average accident data and that Caltrans hasn’t discussed the data in detail. He argued that if the ramps are safe, they should be allowed to stay.
“We’re trying to avoid a lawsuit when it comes down to it,” Pulice said.
His group believes the Highway 101 high-occupancy vehicle lane project can be done faster and cheaper if the left-hand ramps are kept and the carpool lane starts at Ortega Ridge. That way, more Measure A and other local money will be available for routine street maintenance, he said.
“We’d rather them design it the way we want it … or don’t build it at all,” Pulice said.
The Montecito Association has been advocating for its alternative plan for months, and Schneider recently has been advocating to add city improvements to the Caltrans plan.
Schneider wants the project to include a roundabout at Olive Mill Road and widening of the Union Pacific Railroad bridge over Cabrillo Boulevard so the narrow two-lane street can be widened as well. She asked the Planning Commission to send a letter to that effect, which it voted to do in September.
In addition to all of this, Santa Barbara constituents have come out against the Montecito Association’s proposal in a 1,400-signature petition to Gov. Jerry Brown that asks him to move forward with the Caltrans project as proposed in the environmental impact report.
The petition was circulated by Shan O’Brien Goldman, who owns and works out of the Las Aves office complex near the Andree Clark Bird Refuge. She has been advocating for a new southbound on-ramp at Cabrillo Boulevard for months, saying there has been massive congestion since the old left-hand on-ramp closed in 2009.
People end up in queues backed up onto Coast Village Road, Middle Road and Hot Springs Road while trying to get to the Olive Mill Road southbound on-ramp. Many of the petitioners live or work near the Los Patos Way and Coast Village Road area of Santa Barbara.
Goldman and the other petitioners support the F-modified design, not the Montecito Association alternative.
Some business owners and residents in that area say they are worried that the coalition’s alternative would push additional traffic onto neighboring streets and add to the congestion problems, according to the petition.
Goldman’s cover letter says the coalition plan, which doesn’t include a southbound on-ramp, is “a no-win plan, filled with unknowns, defects, deficiencies and delays.”
She had volunteers and paid signature-gatherers to fan out during the Open Streets event Nov. 2, and then walked Coast Village Road to get businesses and employees to sign last week.
“Some people were practically grabbing the petition out of my hand,” she said.
As of Wednesday, SBCAG had not received a recommendation letter from Caltrans. As soon as it does, the project would be scheduled for the next available agenda, according to SBCAG chairman Roger Aceves.