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Goleta Business Leaders Talk Transportation Over Lunch

Not everyone's headed in the same direction on Measure A and the proposed Highway 101 overpass

Local and regional transportation was on the minds of Goleta’s business community during a lunchtime talk Wednesday covering Measure A and Goleta’s proposed Highway 101 overpass.

Hosted by the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce, the event was presented by Gregg Hart of the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments, the regional agency administering Measure A, and Rosemarie Gaglione, an engineer for the city of Goleta.

SBCAG is confident that the projects included in its spending program for Measure A can be funded in the down economy, but Hart said some projects will have to be postponed until funding is secured.

Measure A is the half-cent sales-tax measure to replace Measure D, which came to an end at the end of March, and is intended to fund transportation projects throughout Santa Barbara County for the next 30 years. The measure was ratified by voters in 2008.

Unlike Measure D, Measure A is not the sole funder of projects but instead uses its money to leverage additional funds for the projects — the biggest of which is the Highway 101 widening. Under Measure A, $140 million would be taken off the top for the freeway project, with the rest split evenly between North County and South Coast jurisdictions to spend on local projects. The funding sources for the future projects are not immediately clear, however.

The economic downturn, however, will delay the funding of some projects, including Goleta’s Highway 101 overpass, proposed for western Goleta. Designwise, it spans Highway 101 and currently is not intended to connect to the freeway itself, although it might in the future.

The Highway 101 overpass has been a pet project of Goleta for years, the idea of which goes back to even before cityhood, and became amplified by the 2008 death of a teenager trying to cross the freeway in western Goleta to return home from Girsh Park. The city even contemplated a local sales tax to fund the project.

“We need this,” City Councilman Michael Bennett said at the chamber luncheon.

He said that among his frustrations with the delay in funding the overpass is that Goleta is a “donor city,” meaning that the Measure A sales tax the city would generate is calculated to be far more than the funds the city would get as a result of the program. The city’s participation in Measure A in a major way was dependent on the guarantee of overpass funding, something to the tune of $20 million.

“There’s a lot of competition,” Hart acknowledged.

One such tug-of-war will be over the federal gas tax dollars that come to SBCAG and are generally allocated to the different jurisdictions. According to Hart, part of the problem is that the gas taxes — local and federal — have not kept up with the economy, so at their current rate of collection are still inadequate to address local and regional transportation needs.

With the downturn in the economy, SBCAG may find itself using the funds to keep projects rolling instead of allowing local jurisdictions to use the money for their needs. So far, however, the idea is to put those funds in a separate account and pursue other sources aggressively, to lessen the chance that SBCAG will take the gas tax money.

The tension over Goleta’s overpass and SBCAG’s schedule of projects may not be resolved for a while. The city is examining design alternatives chosen after public input and will hold an open house on the proposal in the fall. Gaglione said the project would take several months to complete once started, but under Measure A guidelines, it would not bed scheduled for years.

Still, if the economy picks up and SBCAG has the money and sees the need for the project at a sooner date, it may be possible. Part of the Measure A plan provides for regular reviews of the program of projects by the SBCAG board, and reprioritization if necessary.

Noozhawk staff writer Sonia Fernandez can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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