Monday, April 23 , 2018, 12:54 am | Fog/Mist 56º


Ken Oplinger: Yet Another Delay of Highway 101 Project Does Not Deter Its Widening

Last month, Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Thomas Anderle issued an order that caused a bit of a stir among policy wonks around the region — if not the thousands of commuters who could be affected by it.

The order stemmed from the Environmental Impact Report that has been completed for Phase Four of the Highway 101 widening project — the addition of a third lane between Carpinteria and Montecito.

As reported in the media, the order stated that Caltrans’​ EIR was “inadequate” in its assessment of impacts the widening would have on nine intersections in Santa Barbara, and that Caltrans needed to go back and address those.

Not surprisingly, those who have questioned the benefits of the project came out quickly to express their happiness over the announcement.

The so-called “Transportation Futures Committee” said the project would create “unmitigated gridlock on South Coast surface streets and interchanges,” and went on about Caltrans’ ineptitude at not providing better mitigation assessments for the nine intersections highlighted by Anderle.

But their chest pounding and arm waving evoked images to me not of triumph but of confusion. Anderle did not stop this project. He did not order Caltrans to go back to square one and redo the entire EIR.

And he certainly did not issue statements agreeing with some of the tired anti-101 widening rhetoric that some have suggested.

Instead, he told Caltrans that it need to make a correction, and a small correction at that. Caltrans’ own report showed impacts from the widening project on the nine intersections in question, but according to the ruling, the state transportation agency failed to adequately address whether mitigation efforts for those impacts were needed.

Frankly, it’s like my daughter missed a few answers on a math test, and her teacher said, “Go back and study your mistakes, and I’ll let you take the test again.”

And Caltrans is certainly going to get a second shot at this. It will reassess the impacts and potential mitigation efforts for those nine intersections, recirculate those small changes, and complete the EIR process before the end of the year.

The more important question in my mind is, what are the actual impacts of this delay? Because we are still going to get a wider Highway 101.

And those impacts are simple: More time, and more money.

We will get the project later than planned, and it will cost us more to build.

So don’t worry, Highway 101 widening is still moving ever-so-slowly forward. Relief is on the way.

On behalf of all of us here at The Chamber of Commerce of the Santa Barbara Region, may you have a safe and prosperous 2016.

— Ken Oplinger is president and CEO of The Chamber of Commerce of the Santa Barbara Region. The opinions expressed are his own.

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