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Local News

Planning Commission Gives Green Light to Traffic Improvement Project for Old Town Goleta

The $19.8 million plan, which now will proceed to the final design phase, calls for four roundabouts to help alleviate congestion

Though virtually no public improvements have been made to Old Town in 50 years, the Goleta Planning Commission took the first steps Monday night to improving the area’s traffic flow.

A unanimous vote from the commission approved the plans for the Ekwill-Fowler Project, which staff say will improve circulation to the area. On Monday, the commission certified an environmental impact report that will allow the project to move toward final design. The decision will not go through to the City Council.

The final EIR found less than significant impacts in areas such as traffic and transportation, air and water quality.

Traffic in the area has become a growing issue through the years, but few improvements have taken place in the project’s target section.

The proposed improvements are bordered by Hollister Avenue to the north, Highway 217 to the east, Fairview Avenue to the west and Goleta Slough to the south and southwest. Planners are striving to extend Ekwill Street and Fowler Road, which will provide east-west routes between Fairview Avenue and Kellogg Avenue.

Four roundabouts are included in the plan, which aims to improve connectivity to, from and within southern Old Town as well as to the Santa Barbara Airport. Reducing congestion along Hollister Avenue is also a goal of the project, known as the Ekwill Street and Fowler Road Extensions Project. One roundabout is slated for the Fowler Road and Fairview Avenue intersection and one for the Ekwill Street and Pine Avenue intersection.

Two other roundabouts would be installed at the Highway 217 northbound and southbound on- and off-ramps. One is slated for the Los Carneros and Calle Real intersection. There, an increasing number of side-impact collisions prompted the city to make the intersection a three-way stop, and it’s planning to install a roundabout at that location as an even safer alternative.

A free right-turn lane on southern Kellogg Avenue near Hollister also would be added, as well as modified parking.

The project needs to still go through its final design steps and right-of-way negotiations, but will proceed according to the availability of funding, according to city engineer Steve Wagner.

“We could be complete with construction in 2016,” he said.

Wagner showed a computer simulation to the commission of traffic moving through the roundabouts adjacent to Highway 217. Cars and pedestrians moved easily through the dual roundabouts, and the simulations used the peak volumes of cars, and tripled the normal number of bikes and pedestrians.

“They can accommodate more traffic than a signalized intersection in the same amount of space,” he said, adding that idling doesn’t occur as with signalized lights, reducing greenhouse gases. “This (the simulation) will be part of the process of educating the community of how to drive roundabouts.”

Construction is expected to begin in 2014 and would last two to three years, and construction would begin simultaneously on all of the components of the plan.

The price tag for the improvements comes in at $19.8 million, $15.9 of which would come from transportation improvement funds — state money pledged before the financial crisis began. The remainder of the project’s costs would come from the City of Goleta’s Transportation Improvement Plan fund.

The city will hold workshops to familiarize the public with the roundabouts. Goleta hopes to begin construction on the Calle Real roundabout in spring 2012, and Ekwill-Fowler construction would begin in 2014. That project is a single-lane roundabout and doesn’t require an environmental impact report.

Though the commission voted unanimously, some issues were raised, with members asking that the roundabouts be designed in a way that would be safe for bicycles, pedestrians and cars.

Commissioner Jonny Wallis spoke with particular concern.

“I support this project, but it is not easy to do so. The major question is, do we think this will meet the goals of Old Town?” she asked, urging staff to work with the business community. “The last thing we want to do is impair their operation in this process.”

Residents have expressed fear about driving through the roundabouts, she said, and asked staff to listen to their concerns.

“Sometimes we need to allow the community to educate us,” she said.

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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