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Santa Barbara Moving Ahead with Plans to Take Over Highway 225

Council orders city staff to study accident rates and determine costs of potential safety improvements for the busy thoroughfare

The Santa Barbara City Council is moving forward with its plan to take over jurisdiction of Highway 225 from Caltrans, but in the meantime ordered city staff on Monday to bring back a full analysis of accident statistics, and potential safety improvements and their cost.

Mesa resident Leslie Wiscomb speaks in support of the city taking over Highway 225 during Monday's City Council hearing.
Mesa resident Leslie Wiscomb speaks in support of the city taking over Highway 225 during Monday’s City Council hearing. (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk photo)

The 4.6-mile state highway stretches from the intersection of Castillo and Montecito streets, around Santa Barbara City College, along Cliff Drive, and north on Las Positas Road to Highway 101.

Public Works Director Christine Andersen said it’s likely to cost millions of dollars to achieve the safety goals identified for the Highway 225 corridor. It’s a “perfect storm” between the residential and commercial areas, cross streets that don’t line up with each other to make uneven intersections, and popular trip destinations such as schools, churches, business parks and the college.

“It’s a more complex solution, but it’s not going to be an inexpensive one to increase safety,” Andersen said. “We don’t want to be misleading along those lines.”

Andersen’s staff will report back to the City Council in six to nine months with accident information, potential safety improvements for the roadway and the funding options for those. The report would have to fit into the existing workload for transportation staff, she said.

Councilmen Dale Francisco and Frank Hotchkiss dissented in the 5-2 vote, saying it would be more prudent to conduct a thorough cost analysis and investigate what the city could actually do to improve pedestrian safety on that highway before continuing with the process.

Francisco lamented the loss of millions of dollars in Redevelopment Agency capital funds with its “untimely dissolution” in February, and said it doesn’t make sense to take over the maintenance costs yet if the city can’t afford to start making improvements.

While Caltrans has agreed to pay some one-time improvement costs, the city would be faced with $367,000 in annual maintenance costs for the highway, and $112,300 for converting traffic signals to the city’s system. Money for these improvements would have to be diverted from the rest of the city’s streets.

Mesa neighborhood residents have supported the city takeover of the route for years, saying local control is the only way to improve pedestrian safety on the road.

Even inexpensive “paint on the ground” solutions like crosswalks would help, Mesa resident Leslie Wiscomb and others said.

“At the end of the day, today’s budget challenges will be forgotten,” Mesa resident John Kelly said. “What will be remembered is whether you did the right thing for the long-term well-being of our community.”

City traffic engineer Derek Bailey said it’s not that simple. With most traffic driving 45 mph and a high traffic volume, pedestrian safety improvement options are even more limited — and more complex — than Milpas Street.

Santa Barbara already has worked with Caltrans to get a portion of Cliff Drive restriped, with one lane in each direction, wide bike lanes and a middle lane for left turns in either direction. Anecdotally, neighbors and city staff members have said the change has been helpful in calming traffic.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli 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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