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Santa Barbara Council Expected to Take Another Lap on Highway 225 Purchase

$1.2 million price tag may put brakes on deal to buy 5-mile stretch of Westside-Mesa roadway

It’s a portion of roadway the city of Santa Barbara, and many of its residents, would like to see bought back from the state of California, but the initial $1.2 million price tag may be enough to table discussions expected Tuesday.

That’s when the City Council will be asked by staff if it will move ahead to purchase the five-mile stretch of Highway 225, which runs from Montecito and Castillo streets on the Lower Westside and snakes around SBCC, blending into Cliff Drive and ending where Las Positas Road meets Highway 101.

Caltrans, the road’s owner, has signaled a willingness to work with the city, which would like to buy the highway and bring it back into local jurisdiction. Caltrans’ mission is to focus on traffic movement, with less priority on pedestrians and neighborhoods. The city wants to see more improvements in line with the surrounding community.

This disconnect was clear last summer when Mesa residents showed up en masse at a council meeting to call on officials to approve what changes it could to the road. The council unanimously agreed, ordering the four-lane road to be restriped to two with a center turn lane and two bike lanes, and reducing the speed to 30 mph from 40.

Among the residents who spoke up was Mark Griffith, who said two people were killed in a motorcycle crash in front of his Cliff Drive home.

“I lie in bed at night and listen as people drive by at 80 mph,” said Griffith, who added that he got to know his neighbors as they responded to accidents outside their houses.

Although the council moved ahead with the cosmetic changes and the speed limit reduction, it tabled a vote on the purchase of the road until a later date.

Assemblyman Das Williams, D-Santa Barbara, a former Santa Barbara city councilman, has sponsored legislation that would allow the California Transportation Commission to relinquish Highway 225 to the city — provided the city and Caltrans can come to an agreement.

City staff has been negotiating the purchase price with Caltrans, as well as potential liability issues.

On Tuesday, it all comes back to the council for a decision.

City Attorney Steve Wiley is recommending that Santa Barbara only take ownership of the road if the state agrees to take responsibility for any accidents that occur there as a result of dangerous conditions from design defects.

As for price, Caltrans has said it’s reducing the cost to $697,000 from $997,000 because of pavement maintenance that has already occurred. But staff estimates the city will need $457,075 more to maintain the Las Positas Bridge, which Caltrans says is in good condition and won’t repair.  The city says additional studies of the bridge will be needed if the city gets the road, and that the bridge will require repairs. The added costs would bring the initial price of the road to almost $1.2 million.

Improvements will be needed after the purchase, too, like drainage repairs that would add another $569,375. The city also would need $367,000 annually for ongoing maintenance, and officials say both the improvements and the maintenance are unfunded.

On Tuesday, the council will be asked to move forward with the purchase or postpone it until the city’s economic outlook is better. The council will take up the item in its evening session, which begins at 6 p.m. Tuesday in council chambers at City Hall, 735 Anacapa St.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper 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.

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