In a few days, drivers at the western end of Goleta will no longer have to navigate that complicated set of runs between the Hollister Avenue on-ramp and the Cathedral Oaks Road off-ramp of Highway 101. On Thursday morning, city officials celebrated with nearby neighbors in announcing the completion of the Cathedral Oaks interchange, a pedestrian- and bike-friendly vehicular bridge.
“Basically we’re doing a little straightening out of Goleta,” said Mayor Margaret Connell, pointing out the need for connectivity between the northern and southern neighborhoods in the city, which are bisected by Highway 101.
The bridge is expected to ease traffic around suburban and semi-rural western Goleta.
A better bridge had been an idea of project planners from Goleta, Santa Barbara County and Caltrans for years. The original bridge is actually composed of two smaller bridges: one that spans the Union Pacific Railroad trestle that runs close to Highway 101, and another that crosses the freeway.
Little did planners and engineers and construction companies know when they were building this and other bridges in the 1960s and ‘70s that they were using a reactive aggregate — a composite of cement and minerals that, according to Community Services director Steve Wagner, would pull apart over time and disintegrate.
“The bridge would eventually become a pile of sand,” he said.
Added to the crumbling bridge was a need for costly seismic retrofits, and the time was right to start considering realigning the overpass and building a new bridge, according to Jim Kemp, executive director of the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments, the body that monitors and oversees infrastructure and roadwork, and administers the Measure A half-cent transportation sales tax to the county. The bridge was the last on Caltrans’ list of such bridges to be replaced.
The project was on the county’s to-do list before Goleta’s 2002 incorporation, but it gained real momentum only in the past few years. Finances, other priorities, even difficult negotiations with Union Pacific stretched out the process. The down economy proved to be a benefit when it came to bids, however. Funds came from a variety of sources — local, regional and state.
“Estimates ran as high up as $12 million for construction, and the bids came in at $6.7 million.” said Rosemarie Gaglione, Goleta’s capital improvement program manager. The bridge was expected to be completed in March, but for unfavorable weather.
A 1967 Shelby Cobra was the first car to make its way across the bridge after the ribbon was cut. Kids on bikes and people walking dogs also got in on the action. The bridge, which needs a little more work, will officially open June 18. The section of the old bridge that spans the freeway is scheduled for demolition on June 20 and the portion that spans the railroad on June 27. Landscaping will be complete by fall.
Not all voices were so enthusiastic Thursday, however. Barbara Massey, a resident of the Winchester Canyon neighborhood, said she isn’t excited to have the interchange bring vehicle traffic and noise closer to her home.
“A lot of people with find it an advantage,” she said, “but it will bring a lot of noise and problems for us.”