Monday, February 8 , 2016, 10:29 pm | Fair 57º

SBCAG Agrees to Include Montecito Proposals in Highway 101 Review

Left-hand on-ramps and off-ramps are a key point of contention in the widening plan

Caltrans director Malcolm Dougherty, left, SBCAG executive director Jim Kemp and Caltrans District 5 director Tim Gubbins chat during Thursday’s meeting about the Highway 101 widening project through Montecito.
Caltrans director Malcolm Dougherty, left, SBCAG executive director Jim Kemp and Caltrans District 5 director Tim Gubbins chat during Thursday’s meeting about the Highway 101 widening project through Montecito.  (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk photo)

By Giana Magnoli, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @magnoli | updated logo |

The director of Caltrans insists his staff would not approve of keeping the Montecito-area left-side on-ramps and off-ramps for Highway 101, but local leaders on Thursday asked the state agency to include a Montecito coalition’s alternative design plan in the widening project’s environmental documents.

Caltrans and the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments are partners for the Highway 101 widening project, which will add a carpool lane in either direction between Santa Barbara and Carpinteria in an effort to reduce congestion over the long term.

Some work has already been done, and the next phase would add the lane and reconfigure certain ramps in the Montecito area.

Designating the extra lane as a high-occupancy vehicle lane could make it easier to get state and federal funding and will incentivize carpools, Caltrans District 5 director Tim Gubbins said.

The whole project is estimated to cost between $345 million and $455 million. SBCAG has contributed about $140 million out of local sales tax Measure A funds, and $22 million out of the area’s share of state gas tax funds so far, SBCAG executive director Jim Kemp said.

A draft environmental impact report has been circulated and received comment, and Caltrans made a presentation to SBCAG on Thursday on the Common Sense 101 Coalition’s alternative proposal.

The Montecito Association and this coalition, formed solely to deal with this issue, have expressed concerns with the current project plans.

They want to keep the southbound left-side onramp at Sheffield Drive and the left-side ramps at Cabrillo Boulevard, and push the high-occupancy vehicle lane designation further south.

Tijana Hamilton, an engineer hired to work on the Highway 101 widening proposal put forth by the Common Sense 101 Coalition, testifies Thursday before the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments. (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk photo)
Tijana Hamilton, an engineer hired to work on the Highway 101 widening proposal put forth by the Common Sense 101 Coalition, testifies Thursday before the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments. (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk photo)

The SBCAG board voted to talk more in the future about where the HOV lane designation should start and stop. Coalition members want to push the restrictions south of Sheffield.

This is the fourth and final stage of the widening project, and it’s been “the highest regional priority, because it’s by far our worst traffic problem,” Kemp said.

Caltrans plans to modify the Cabrillo and Sheffield interchanges in addition to adding the third lane, and estimates the entire construction project would take 24 to 29 months, with at least two lanes of traffic open in either direction.

The “F Modified” option for Cabrillo Boulevard would add a northbound right-side offramp at Cabrillo, improve the northbound onramp, and build a new southbound onramp and offramp to the right.

The Los Patos Way exit would be closed, since many trucks ignore signs and hit the 100-year-old Union Pacific Railroad bridge that only has 12 feet of clearance, project manager Scott Eades said.

“Just in this calendar year, we’ve had three bridge hits by trucks,” he said. “It’s a very strong structure — it’s always won and the trucks aren’t left in very good shape.”

For Sheffield, Caltrans proposes eliminating the left-side onramp for southbound traffic due to safety issues. It’s been the department’s policy to systematically eliminate left-side ramps, and not doing so could bring some major liability, Caltrans director Malcolm Dougherty said.

“It’s not viable, appropriate or responsible to retain the left-side ramps at this location,” he said.

Gubbins and Eades said they want to minimize construction time and the disruptive impact to local roads, residents and businesses. They spent 1,600 staff hours evaluating the proposal at SBCAG’s direction, which was mostly paid for by SBCAG at a cost of $175,000.

The coalition wants to add the extra lane on the outside of existing lanes, which would cut into private property and the Union Pacific Railroad’s right-of-way, Caltrans staff said.

Most of all, however, Montecito residents are fighting to keep the left-side ramps — for community character and cost savings — and argue that they meet “driver expectations” since they are used mostly by local residents and other drivers use GPS or other mapping equipment.

Jack Overall, a member of the Montecito Planning Commission, and Tijana Hamilton, the engineer hired to work on the alternative proposal, gave a presentation at the Thursday meeting.

The left-side ramps could be lengthened so drivers don’t have to speed up as quickly, Hamilton said.

Their proposal, she added, would save about $43 million and a lot of time if those two ramps weren’t moved.

Overall said the alternative would also be consistent with the character of the community, have fewer visual impacts, require fewer tree removals, lessen the impact on local businesses and residents, and still accomplish the goal of congestion relief.

He pushed the SBCAG board to include the alternative in the EIR so it could be considered later.

However, Caltrans staff said everything evaluated to date is already in that report, and this alternative would be included as a nonviable option.

Left-side ramps are increasingly rare and require slower drivers to move across all lanes when exiting or entering the highway, said Eades, adding that they’re not supported by state or federal standards.

They have higher collision rates statewide and the Cabrillo Boulevard exit has a higher-than-average rate, he said.

“I have an obligation to the motoring public to make sure it’s safe,” he said. “The liability that goes along with that is endless, and it’s mine.”

Ultimately, Caltrans is the owner/operator of the highway system, and the decision lies with the agency, he noted.

“This is probably the last time we’re going to touch 101 in this section for a long time, so we should think about what we want to leave behind,” he said.

Exceptions for left-side ramps can be made, but he wouldn’t make them, and no one below him would either, he said.

The SBCAG board of directors voted 7-6 to continue the discussion of where the HOV designation starts and stops, include the entire Common Sense 101 alternative in the EIR (though Caltrans will note that it’s not a viable alternative), and recirculate the EIR if any changes make that necessary.

The alternatives included in the Common Sense 101 plan were already considered in a piecemeal way, so the inclusion won’t actually change anything, Gubbins said.

Many Montecito residents and business owners spoke in favor of the Common Sense 101 alternative, adding a southbound ramp at Cabrillo Boulevard and eliminating the Los Patos Way exit.

Zoe Taylor, interim president of the Santa Barbara Region Chamber of Commerce, asked SBCAG not to delay the project too long in case it affects potential funding.

Sally Jordan, a member of the Neighborhood Defense League, said the state needs to be more sensitive.

“The Caltrans plan will be disastrous to not just Montecito and Santa Barbara and Santa Barbara County, but the entire Central Coast commerce artery,” she said.

Judith Ishkanian, board president of the Montecito Sanitary District, said the district’s new laboratory and maintenance building are not on the aerial photographs being used for the planning process. They need to be part of the planning process, she said.

“In the draft EIR, it says all unincorporated areas are on septic systems — no they’re not!” she exclaimed. “It’s hard on your sanitary district ego to be told you don’t exist.”

Residents also raised concerns about the short offramp for San Ysidro Road, which isn’t addressed for this project, and the busy intersection at the Olive Mill Road exits and Coast Village Road.

County Second District Supervisor Janet Wolf said Caltrans doesn’t seem willing to budge on the left-side ramps, so the county should move forward with the planned project.

“We are here and let’s just get this done,” she said. “Let’s get it moving and let’s get this Highway 101 complete.”

Carpinteria Councilman Al Clark said it was worth investigating if the Common Sense 101 plan could save tens of millions of dollars and time.

Goleta Mayor Roger Aceves, SBCAG’s board chairman, worried about the county’s liability if it builds the left-side ramps after Caltrans so adamantly opposed them.

“I wouldn’t want to delay this any longer if we’re going to be spending time dealing with that one issue,” he said. “I can support looking at HOV and where to start and stop, but I can’t support the motion to recirculate and to consider left-hand turn lanes.”

First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal was joined in his support of the Common Sense 101 alternative being added by Clark, Lompoc Mayor John Linn, Solvang Mayor Jim Richardson, Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider, Santa Maria Mayor Alice Patino and Buellton Councilwoman Holly Sierra.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli 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 05.17.13 @ 02:39 AM

Why do opponents to the Common Sense 101 proposal continue to distort the safety statistics that have been compiled over the decades these fast lane off ramps have been in existence ?
Simple truth is that these fast lane offs have a better safety record than the 60 some odd slow lane offs in the vicinity. They have been there for decades , worked well , and have a good safety record .  Stop beating on folks just because they want to save taxpayer money and time on this project.

» on 05.17.13 @ 03:11 AM

Thank you, 1st District Sup. Carbajal and John Linn, Al Clark, Jim Richardson, Helene Schneider, Alice Patino and Holly Sierra. That you listened to the residents of the affected area, studied the project, will be remembered.

No thanks to 2nd District Wolf and Goletan/would be Supervisor Aceves.

» on 05.17.13 @ 11:43 AM

“Will be remembered”? Is that Montecito code for “contributions forthcoming”?. To derail a project that has already siphoned tens of millions from local road projects for the sake of a few stubborn but well heeled men, is really public policy at its worst!

» on 05.17.13 @ 12:36 PM

I have no interest here what so ever and can’t stand how many of you turn this into political punching. I’m just a guy who grew up here and see this as such a big game. The facts aren’t hard to see.

The left lanes work here and there’s no need to change them.

There is ZERO logic in creating a carpool lane when you’ve only got two lanes to start with. Simple math without the HOV designation puts 1/3 of the cars in the new lane. It’s a spitball guess to assume the lane won’t be packed with cars regardless. The key is simply an extra lane adds 50% capacity. It’s senseless to put restrictions on it. 

Even this article implies that the main reason to do an HOV lane is to SECURE FUNDS for the project. But no HOV lane along with no changes to the exit structer as it stands means there’s NO NEED FOR THOSE FUNDS. The project would be significantly less expensive meaning no need to waste the money or the time.

We’ve just gone through 5 years of monkey business on 101 leading into this area. Do we really need 5 more years of traffic jams for a half-baked solution?

» on 05.17.13 @ 01:23 PM

SBLOGIC - “Will be remembered”, late night, poorly phrased, meant only that, that I’ll remember those who studied the project and are openminded about the realities of _this particular_ part of the California highway system. It’s improving, not derailing a project. Santa Barbara is an especially beautiful section of the California coast. We and all those who transverse each of us deserve to have it protected as much as engineeringly possible as well as providing safe transit. I think the 101 Proposal is that engineering proposal.

I am not a “well-heeled m(a)n”, nor do I live in Montecito. However, I have used that road for many, many years, used those left side exits safely for many years, as have hundreds of thousands of other locals. I think it is absurd to have HOV lanes in such an area where there are so many exits/on ramps. I think it would be very, very sad to destroy that beautiful view that speaks to many of us, “home”, as we west/north from   the south, catching the first glimpse of Santa Barbara.

I am grateful that my mayor, my supervisor (yes, I do live in the First district and do live in Santa Barbara city) and the others were in the majority to vote to have this in the EIR. For the sake of the future, I hope that Cal-Trans will see that one size does not fit all.

» on 05.17.13 @ 01:28 PM

People, particularly those of you who were opposed to the widening to begin with, the HOV lanes were a requirement by state environmentalists as mitigation for extra pavement. The HOV lanes require the two interchanges in question to be rebuilt so that the HOV lanes are contiguous and uninterrupted by off ramps.

The shame is that while Montecito bird brains continue to drag this project out, it becomes more expensive, the air remain more polluted and more fuel is wasted, not that the idle, visiting wealthy of Montecito give a crap.

As for CalTrans, this idiotic stupid mismanaged bungler of an organization could have avoided all of this had they made even the tiniest effort at preserving the lush vegetation that marked this particular corridor. Instead they used the widening as an excuse to pave the corridor ROW to ROW so they wouldn’t have any vegetation to maintain. When the community protested they turned off the irrigation so the existing vegetation would die off.

CalTrans was one of the biggest reasons I made a foray into the environmental movement at a very early age (that movement has since been high jacked by dopy leftist socialists using it to kill capitalism rather than save the environment). The agency became known as the “utilitarian bulldozer” designing the ugliest monstrosities in the country in the name of progress. This dopy philosophy has been the biggest trigger of anti-freeway protests in the state.

However unlike most of the protesters of road projects mine is more engineering and design oriented rather than a rejection of the mode. Build the damned things will you! Just do it friggen right and plant a lot of friggen trees when you are done and water them.

» on 05.17.13 @ 10:04 PM

I drive this section of 101 almost every day.  The left turn lanes are dangerous, ridiculous, the Montecito plutocrats need to get with the engineering requirements.  Let’s do it and move on.

» on 05.17.13 @ 10:23 PM

” (that movement has since been high jacked by dopy leftist socialists using it to kill capitalism”.  This coming from a guy who issues daily excoriations and accusations of partisanship against anyone who’s viewpoint differs from his. Really ? The discussion is about freeway design and he is once again in hair on fire attack mode.
  For the rest of you , who just want to talk about the freeway plans , please remember that these fast lane off ramps have safety numbers exceeding those of the 60 plus slow lane offs.
Oh , and I don’t live in Montecito , am not “well heeled” , or have a horse in the race. Just being pragmatic about saving taxpayer monies and construction time.

» on 05.18.13 @ 08:48 AM

Another thing - if you put so much trust in CalTrans planning , ask yourself why they are tearing out the brand new concrete just laid at the Bailard overpass. It’s being done because their ” planners/engineers ” miscalculated the minimum height requirements. You may want to trust them . I don’t.

» on 05.18.13 @ 11:30 AM

Willie you completely missed the point (being so damned sensitive to any criticism of the left) which is the HOV lanes require the inside ramps must go. Do you people get that, it’s not a damned safety issue at all. BTW – it is the left who pushed to have the new lanes designated as HOV, thus requiring both interchanges to be rebuilt. Oh the unintended consequences of knee jerk policy.

You also missed the criticism of Caltrans design policy which is the basis of almost all freeway protests dating back to the early 60’s. Having studied the plans, I found it was perfectly reasonable and economically viable (though in the last 20 years the costs have skyrocketed) to add two more lanes and save much of the lush vegetation. The idiot bureaucrats at CaTrans would have none of that.

Because Californians both right and left have largely shunned reason for adversarial protest much of what we build here now is half baked mediocre crap. Half the value at ten times the cost. Stuff that in your angry man knee jerk commentary.

» on 05.18.13 @ 05:27 PM

As usual you are 1/2 informed and expose yourself as such by blabbing so much. As part of their Common Sense 101 plan , these guys are smart enough to have crafted a design that starts the HOV lanes beyond the offs in question, thus retaining state funding for part of it. You just don’t know when to zip it. Pathetic.

» on 05.18.13 @ 08:03 PM

...and therein lies the absurdity. Removing the HOV lanes from an HOV project essentially is a different project and NOT what the taxpayers who supported Measure A were promised. 
The fact that all those tea party north county mayors supported the action taken just underscores the ludicrous nature of the “motion”/vote. None of the BOS supported the action, besides Salud, because they know what the project requires and how the Ceqa process works.  Salud had to support his Montecito Association guys. But why did Helene ignore her Cty of Santa Barbara constituents and business owners and Chamber, in favor of the handful of Montecito rich guys?? Is that what the SB City Council charged her with doing?

» on 05.18.13 @ 08:34 PM

Even if the started them after Cabrillo you have Sheffield right in the middle, are you kidding me? Don’t flatter your self Willie. You’re too damned wrapped around the axle playing mister contrarian to know what you are babbling about.

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