With a backdrop of smoothly flowing traffic, a small gathering of local leaders met near the Montecito Roundabout on Wednesday to celebrate its completion.

The roundabout replaced two stop signs at the intersections of Coast Village Road, Hot Springs Road, Old Coast Highway and Cabrillo Boulevard, which often were tediously slow during peak traffic hours.

“It was notorious for the long backups over lunch, in the morning and over the weekend,” said Jim Kemp, executive director of the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments, the group backing the project in partnership with Caltrans and the city of Santa Barbara. “As you can see, it’s working much better.”

The roundabout is just one piece of a massive undertaking of road improvement projects, which are expected to wrap up in 2012 and are estimated to cost $53 million, making them the largest in county history.

Celebrating with Kemp on Wednesday were several members of the Santa Barbara City Council, Mayor Marty Blum and county Supervisor Salud Carbajal.

“Anytime you engage in a major project like this, you’re going to have some bumps in the road,” Carbajal said, admitting that it wasn’t easy for the community to commute through the construction, but that the result had been worth it.

Peter Van Duinwyk, president of the Montecito Association, thanked the group for the roundabout, calling it a “terrific challenge.” He said it would be a “wonderfully attractive gateway to the western portion of Montecito.”

Danny Copus, president of the Coast Village Business Association, called the roundabout “absolutely brilliant” and a welcome improvement for area merchants.

The roundabout opened a couple of weeks early, and landscaping will start immediately.

There’s still a lot of work going on, including the widening of Highway 101 from Milpas to Cabrillo/Hot Springs.

“This is really the beginning of the full widening of the 101 from Santa Barbara to the Ventura County line,” Kemp said.

In addition, the Highway 101 northbound offramp at Milpas Street will reopen next week, two months ahead of schedule, Kemp said.

He offered several rules people should remember when going through the roundabout. Drivers should slow down, and about 20 miles an hour is the speed designed for the roundabout. Yielding on entry, cars should enter the roundabout and keep moving. Bicyclists should also follow traffic rules, and drivers should remember that pedestrians always have the right-of-way.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at lcooper@noozhawk.com.

Lara Cooper, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @laraanncooper

— Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at lcooper@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.