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Freeway Onramp Meter Study Provides Insight about Goleta Traffic Congestion

Freeway ramp meters may offer a potential short-term solution to traffic congestion in the Goleta corridor of Highway 101, but would not provide overall transportation benefits, according to a recent study.

Kittelson & Associates completed a 2016 traffic impact analysis focusing on the effectiveness of installing ramp-meter technology along Highway 101 and State Route 217 to reduce existing and future freeway peak travel periods while considering transit and local road impacts.

The draft study does not commit to any action.

The study examines Highway 101 between Turnpike Road and Cathedral Oaks Road, and State Route 217 from Sandspit Road to Highway 101. 

It also evaluates potential impacts to the streets through Goleta and unincorporated Eastern Goleta, from Turnpike to Cathedral Oaks.

Officials from the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments on Tuesday presented the information to the Goleta City Council, whose members raised concern that the nearly 2-year-old traffic analysis may be outdated due to the city and nearby UC Santa Barbara growing.

“The majority of my emails and phone calls are about traffic, and there is frustration,” said Goleta Mayor Paula Perotte. “Anything that would impact our city streets is probably not a good idea.” 

SBCAG, in partnership with Goleta, the county, UCSB and the California Department of Transportation, studied the potential success of the meters at freeway onramps around the city in response to Caltrans indicating it was considering a project to install a meter at the State Route 217 onramp to southbound Highway 101, according to Goleta’s staff report.

“The purpose was to get a comprehensive look at what the effects of the ramp meters might be, and hopefully use it as an influence if Caltrans chooses to install it,” Michael Becker, SBCAG planning division manager, said of the study. “We are not so sure that it’s a good idea.”

Ramp meters are traffic signals installed at the end of the onramps to control the pace of cars entering the freeway. Their regular operation displays red and green light signals and quickly alternate.

Data collection included at intersection onramps and the freeways related to traffic volume, speeds, vehicle occupancies, accident records from Caltrans, commute times and where drivers are heading and coming from.

The most common morning traffic peak times — based on density, visual observation or speeds less than 35 mph — are from 7:30 to 8 a.m. on southbound Highway 101 at the Los Carneros Road interchange, and from 7:30 to 8:15 a.m. on southbound Highway 101 near the Turnpike Road interchange.

The evening peak hours range from 4 to 6:30 p.m. on southbound Highway 101 near the Turnpike Road interchange, and from 4 to 6:30 p.m. on northbound State Route 217 approaching Highway 101.

Median speeds along a stretch of Highway 101 were 67 mph to 70 mph, with 85 percent of the cars driving at 77 mph or less, according to the study.

Collision rates on Highway 101 in Goleta and State Route 217 in the study area are “higher than the statewide averages for similar facilities, although the rates for severe injury accidents are similar to statewide averages.” 

The highest number of fatal or injury accidents in the Goleta corridor of Highway 101 is at Storke/Glen Annie Road, with 21 "injury crashes" between 2012 and 2015, the draft study said.

Ramp metering on southbound Highway 101 could increase average evening peak-period (between 4 and 7 p.m.) speeds by up to 27 percent, from 44 mph to 62 mph. 

Total vehicle delay would be decreased on the freeway, but the reductions would likely offset by increases in delay at the metered onramps and on local streets due to traffic diversion and congestion, according to the study.

The draft report also details future traffic volume in the studied area.

On April 19, SBCAG staff will present the data to the regional Technical Transportation Advisory Committee (TTAC) and SBCAG’s board of directors.

A second public workshop is slated for April 19.

SBCAG staff is expected to incorporate comments received from Tuesday’s council meeting, residents and SBCAG officials.

A final draft study will be presented to TTAC in May for recommendation to the SBCAG board to accept the results of the study. 

Click here to read the 90-page report.

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland 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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