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Santa Barbara Council Approves Roundabout for Las Positas-Cliff Drive

Open to pursuing grants and private funding for the project, members decide to resume talks during their January budget workshop

[Noozhawk note: An earlier version of this story stated that the Santa Barbara City Council voted to make a decision on the roundabout in January, but in fact it approved the roundabout and will explore funding options in January. The corrected version is below.]

All of the public speakers who turned out for Tuesday's Santa Barbara City Council meeting supported a roundabout for the Las Positas and Cliff Drive intersection, and the council voted to move forward with the option instead of signal, but will be talking in January about how exactly to fund a $600,000 shortfall for the project.

The roundabout is the preferred option for the area, but would be about twice the cost of putting in a signal. 

The city already has the funding to put in a signal and an anemic streets fund for the city roads won't support the roundabout shortfall.  Ultimately, the council voted 6-1 to explore funding in January, during their one-time capital budget work session in January.

Councilwoman Cathy Murillo voted against the motion, stating she was concerned that neglected projects on the lower Eastside could be slighted by funding if the roundabout went forward.

Last June, the council voted to move ahead with a traffic signal at the intersection instead of a more costly roundabout, estimated at $1.9 million, for what is now a three-way stop.

But staff came back this week with a skinnier, more nuts-and-bolts roundabout, which pared down landscaping and other features, and would cost about $1.4 million.

There's still a funding shortfall of $602,000 with the new option.

Traffic engineer Derrick Bailey compared the new, reduced roundabout to the one in place at Hot Springs Road.

Not all of the $850,000 earmarked for the signal would go toward the light itself, Bailey said, adding that some of the money left over could be used for other improvements, such as a 1,750-square-foot multipurpose pedestrian pathway.

With a single-lane roundabout, there are 21 percent fewer crashes and 66 percent fewer injury crashes than the same intersection with a signal light, he said.

Because Las Positas is a high-speed roadway, a roundabout could work well to slow down traffic before and as it enters the intersection, he said. The roundabout would provide better traffic performance and safety, he said, but the signal would also deal with congestion and is fully funded.

But speakers turned out Tuesday in favor of the roundabout, with one calling it an "elegant and preferable" solution.

Speaker Cathy McCammon urged the council to wait and see if grants could be won in the meantime.

"We think this is an important intersection … and we deserve better," she said.

Dennis Thompson, a Mesa resident for almost three decades, said Santa Barbara "was not built on doing things the cheaper way."

He said the community could be called upon to help fundraise and that he had been working to talk to residents in Hope Ranch about contributing to the project.

Lesley Wiscomb, who lost a City Council bid in this month's election, said she "knocked on a lot of Mesa doors" during that time and that the issue came up many times as she talked to the residents.

"Everyone I talked to wanted the roundabout," she told the council.

Council members seemed interested in the possibility of finding that extra money through grants and private funding.

"I strongly urge us to hold off a little bit and get this right," Councilman Grant House said.

Councilman Frank Hotchkiss made a motion to move toward the roundabout option and begin the discussion at a January work session on how to fund it, which was ultimately approved.

Murillo, however, said she would not support it.

That money would go toward "making a good neighborhood better," at a time when several projects on the Eastside, like the Cacique Street footbridge, were badly in need of repair for residents there.

"Those are serious problems that need to be fixed," she said. "I don't give a hoot about what it looks like going in the back door of Hope Ranch; I care about the Eastside."

Councilman Dale Francisco said the roundabout is the better option, but that he couldn't support spending the extra money if the traffic signal would solve most of the problems.

With a traffic signal, engineers expect a level of service B, declining to a C by 2035. With a roundabout, traffic levels would be at level B and stay at B by 2035.

"If we can find another way to fund this without having to use the same money that we're using to keep our streets from deteriorating, then I'd support that," he 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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