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Sunday, March 24 , 2019, 6:48 am | Fair 45º


Caltrans Releases Final EIR for Highway 101 Widening Project

SBCAG is working on design plans for the 10-mile project stretching from Santa Barbara to Carpinteria

SBCAG is moving forward with construction design for the Highway 101 widening project as Caltrans released the final environmental impact report this week.

The Santa Barbara County Association of Governments board voted in January to continue with the project, which will add a third lane in either direction of Highway 101 between Santa Barbara and Carpinteria.

The 10-mile stretch is the last piece of the South Coast 101 HOV Lanes project that aims to ease congestion in southern Santa Barbara County and northern Ventura County.

Saying they had trust issues with Caltrans, SBCAG board members voted to hire an independent design firm instead of using the state agency for the project’s details.

SBCAG has hired Tony Harris as a corridor adviser to help with detailed decisions like staging and which portions of the project will be built first, said Gregg Hart, public information officer with SBCAG.

Harris is a private consultant who previously worked as chief deputy director of Caltrans and was awarded a contract worth about $100,000 per year, according to Hart.

“He’ll also help us with putting together a team of private sector consultants to help facilitate the project and go faster,” Hart said.

The project will probably be split into four sections and Harris will help decide whether to build from north to south, or south to north, or start at either end.

After the design is finished, SBCAG will get permits from the cities of Carpinteria and Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara County, and several state and federal environmental agencies.

Construction is scheduled to start in 2018 and last until 2027.

The final EIR, conducted by Caltrans, made a few minor changes to the preferred design, which will add a lane in either direction and eliminate all the left-hand onramps and offramps.

There are no significant impacts under the California Environmental Quality Act, according to the EIR, but there will be visual changes from adding paving, building soundwalls and removing trees.

Keeping the left-side on-ramps and off-ramps was a point of contention for members of the Montecito Association and the citizen group Common Sense 101.

They met frequently with transportation heads in Sacramento last year and argued to keep the left-side ramps at Cabrillo Boulevard and Sheffield Drive, which will be converted to right-hand ramps in the project.

Caltrans has repeatedly said it won’t build left-hand ramps because they aren’t considered safe.

While transportation officials were hearing a lot from the public last year, Caltrans hasn’t been contacted much since the SBCAG board meeting in January, District 5 spokesman Jim Shivers said.

“I would say that it’s been quiet while our staff has continued work on completing the EIR," he said. "Things have been fairly quiet since that meeting, yes.”

This is the fourth and final part of the large Highway 101 widening project – the Milpas Street to Montecito portion of the project is done, the Carpinteria to Mussel Shoals widening and bike lanes will be finished at the end of September, and next up is the Linden and Casitas Pass interchange project in Carpinteria, slated to start in 2016.

The northbound lanes from Carpinteria to Mussel Shoals will be finished early next year, while the southbound lanes will open in a few weeks.

SBCAG is still $150 million short for the 10-mile stretch but will build what it can with the money it has, Hart said.

“With such a big project, the challenge you have is, if you wait until you have all the money, the cost escalates because of inflation,” he said. “So the idea is to build as much as you have funding for and make the problem less by making those improvements.”

SBCAG is still hoping for the state to contribute funding for the project.

So far, there is $140 million available of Measure A bond funds and about $135 million from the local share of state gas taxes.

The City of Santa Barbara, for which Hart is a council member in addition to his staff position at SBCAG, wanted some city-jurisdiction projects to move forward at the same time as the widening project. SBCAG agreed to pursue five projects separately, but parallel, to the widening project, Hart noted.

Those projects are the Union Pacific Railroad bridge replacement and Olive Mill Road interchange improvements in Santa Barbara; the San Ysidro Road interchange in the unincorporated county; and the Carpinteria bike paths at Rincon and Santa Claus Lane, Hart said.

The idea is that each project has its own project team and funding but they can come up during the permitting process for the widening project so it’s done at once, he said.

“I think there is a way that everybody is fully satisfied at the end of the day," Hart said, "and I don’t anticipate those things being problems.”

Noozhawk news editor 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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