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Caltrans Making Another Effort to Mop Up Soggy Castillo Underpass

Interlocking pavers will be used in an effort to solve the problem along the water-plagued roadway

Caltrans is trying yet another solution for the water-plagued Castillo Street underpass for Highway 101 in Santa Barbara. The latest project, using interlocking pavers, carries an $800,000 price tag.
Caltrans is trying yet another solution for the water-plagued Castillo Street underpass for Highway 101 in Santa Barbara. The latest project, using interlocking pavers, carries an $800,000 price tag. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

Traffic engineers are once again seeking to dry out the soggy conditions of the Castillo underpass that have presented an annoyance to drivers and a hazard to cyclists in Santa Barbara for decades.

The pooling water in the underpass makes pavement maintenance for longer than five years a challenge, and Caltrans, the state agency that owns and maintains the underpass, has announced its latest effort to deal with the water will begin this summer. The exact date construction will start has yet to be announced, but the project is expected to wrap up by August.

Noozhawk wrote last year about how an earthquake in 1971 caused a rift in the pavement under the highway, and how Castillo Street sits about 10 feet below the water table, two problems that allow water to perpetually leak onto the roadway.

The cost to replace the concrete under the highway and railroad would be at least $20 million and cause traffic to be rerouted for years while construction took place.

The agency has said funding isn't there to tackle the fix permanently, but numerous temporary fixes have taken place over the decades.

In its most recent attempt to quell the waters, Caltrans is planning to install interlocking concrete pavers on Castillo Street, and on the surface of the onramps and offramps to Highway 101.  

Engineers are hoping the pavers will drain the water from the surface and allow a smoother area for the cyclists and motorists who travel through the area each day.

Noozhawk spoke with Caltrans Project Manager David Beard, who acknowledged all the previous efforts that have been made.

The underpass has long been the subject of consternation for roadway planners.

About 10 years ago, Caltrans tried an experimental approach, using electrical currents to repel water, which worked for a while, but couldn't provide the long-term results the agency was looking for.

Every few years, there have been repaving operations done, the last of which was about four years ago, when grades were placed in the pavement to allow the water to run off.

"The intrusion of water just broke the pavement apart, it only took a few years," Beard said, adding that the high traffic in the area causes the pavement to breakdown faster, 

Interlocking pavers were installed in 1999, but moved around as traffic increased.

"We noticed that it looked fantastic when it was new," Beard said, but the pavers began to jostle and create gaps in the surface as the traffic made its way over the top. "The disappointment was it only lasted maybe five years."

This time, the pavers will be installed with some concrete curbs to contain them in sections, instead of as one continuous layer.

"They won't have as much room to move around," Beard said, adding that if a repair is needed in the future, it will be limited to one section at a time.

This approach is more expensive than expected, over $800,000 as opposed to the $500,000 that officials had initially forecast, but the hope is that the project will be able to last more than five years.

"We think it's a better investment," he said, adding that "it really is a short-term solution."

Since Castillo is essentially the only highway exit that directly accesses West Beach and Santa Barbara City College, the traffic disruption for a full fix would be significant.

Beard said that a permanent plan may come up in the future, but "we haven't really even proposed that."

"The cost of all of our repairs is still significantly less than that large number," he said.

The current plan will disrupt traffic for about two months, and one lane of traffic will be open in each direction at all times.

Detours are planned as the southbound offramp and onramp are expected to close at different times.

Businesses will remain open during the project, and updates on the project and other Caltrans project can be found by clicking here.

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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