A proposal to add carpool lanes on Highway 101 between Santa Barbara and Carpinteria would reduce traffic congestion while encouraging ride sharing and the use of public transportation, according to a draft environmental impact report released by Caltrans.
However, the project also would have “substantial adverse visual impacts” and require amendments to the local coastal plans for the cities of Santa Barbara and Carpinteria, due to the proximity of several wetlands locations, according to the draft EIR made public last week.
The project involves an 11-mile stretch of freeway, and would add what are officially known as high-occupancy-vehicle (HOV) lanes between Sycamore Creek, north of Salinas Street, in Santa Barbara and Bailard Avenue in Carpinteria.
During peak traffic periods, the extra lanes would be restricted to vehicles with two or more passengers. The HOV lanes would be open to all vehicles outside of the morning and afternoon commute times.
The report notes that “traffic volume is overwhelming the existing capacity” of Highway 101 during weekday and weekend peak periods. The section of freeway currently operates at “Level of Service F” during weekday and weekend peak periods. At that level, traffic moves slowly or not at all, leading to significant travel delays.
These conditions typically occur for two to four hours daily in each direction. Without the added lanes, that is expected to increase to 10 hours a day by 2040, according to the report.
The draft EIR, which details three project alternatives that vary the amount of landscaping and right of way, also analyzes a scenario in which no project is built.
The most significant impact noted in the report seems to be the effect on the aesthetics of the highway corridor. Sound walls and replacement landscaping are expected to reduce but not eliminate those impacts.
“Because of the inherent alteration of scale, increase of hard surface and loss of vegetative character, substantial adverse visual impacts would remain,” according to the report.
All three of the building plans would require amendments to local coastal plans because the project exceed the 100-foot setback for wetlands. A coastal development permit also would be required from the cities of Santa Barbara and Carpinteria and Santa Barbara County if any of the building plans go forward.
The project would not have any adverse effect on community character and is not expected to contribute to growth, according to the report. There is the potential that one archaeological site might be adversely affected.
Noise levels are also expected to increase in the project area between zero and three decibels, and the report calls for the installation of sound walls and noise-reducing pavement to reduce noise impact. The project also could affect several endangered species, such as the tidewater goby and steelhead, while two bridges are being replaced over creeks in the project area, and Caltrans would have to mitigate those impacts.
Public feedback is being solicited on the draft EIR until May 25, and design and permitting are expected to take place from fall 2012 to fall of 2015. Construction is expected to begin in summer of 2016.
“This project will address the growing number of vehicles on Highway 101 in the Santa Barbara area, especially the large number of vehicles and commuters who come from Ventura to Santa Barbara each day,” said Jim Shivers, Caltrans District 5 public information officer.
A similar HOV project is under way on Highway 101 farther south this spring, with six miles of HOV lanes in each direction from Mobil Pier Road in Ventura County to Casitas Pass Road in Santa Barbara County.
The estimated total project cost ranges from $345 million to $455 million, depending on which of the several alternatives is chosen. Caltrans says it has secured $140 million in Measure A regional sales-tax renewal funds, as well funding from the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments. Additional funding is expected to come from a range of state and federal sources
In addition to being online, the draft EIR can be viewed in Santa Barbara at the Central Library, 40 E. Anapamu St., and the Eastside Library, 1102 E. Montecito St. The document is also available at the Montecito Branch Library, 1469 E. Valley Road, and at the Carpinteria Branch Library, 5141 Carpinteria Ave.
Shivers said Caltrans is planning two public meetings for next month. The first will be held from 5 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 24 at the Montecito Country Club, 920 Summit Drive in Montecito. A second meeting will be held from 5 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 25 in the cafeteria at Carpinteria High School, 4810 Foothill Road in Carpinteria.