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Freeway Ramp Meters Eyed as Potential Cure to Goleta Traffic Congestion

Local agencies and consulting firms have begun process of gathering public input and studying whether the signals would be effective

The Goleta corridor of Highway 101 is frequently congested as commuters head home from work in the late afternoon. The Santa Barbara County Association of Governments and other local agencies are studying the possible use of freeway ramp meters to address the problem. Click to view larger
The Goleta corridor of Highway 101 is frequently congested as commuters head home from work in the late afternoon. The Santa Barbara County Association of Governments and other local agencies are studying the possible use of freeway ramp meters to address the problem. (Sam Goldman / Noozhawk photo)

Local government agencies are thinking that ramp meters may be a potential solution to traffic congestion in Goleta.

The Santa Barbara County Association of Governments, in partnership with the city of Goleta, the county, UC Santa Barbara and the California Department of Transportation, has begun studying the potential effectiveness of the meters at freeway onramps around the city.

The basics of the study were presented Thursday evening at a sparsely attended workshop at the Goleta Valley Community Center.

“It’s important to emphasize that this is just a study — that we are not committing to any actions,” said Peter Imhof, SBCAG’s deputy executive director of planning.

Several large intersections around Goleta suffer heavy congestion at certain times of the day, and Highway 101 frequently gets backed up through the city.

Ramp meters are traffic signals at the end of an onramp that regulate when cars enter the freeway. They often take the form of red and green lights that quickly alternate.

With Goleta and nearby UCSB growing, there are limited options for reducing the congestion short of completely modifying the roadways and freeways themselves, said Kendall Flint, the director of outreach and planning at Regional Government Services, a public consulting firm.

“The challenge here is we’ve got a lot of existing traffic conditions, and looking at the last 15, 20 years, it’s really changed dramatically in this corridor,” Flint said.

The southbound Highway 101 onramp at Los Carneros Road is a potential location for a ramp meter. Click to view larger
The southbound Highway 101 onramp at Los Carneros Road is a potential location for a ramp meter. (Sam Goldman / Noozhawk photo)

As the study group continues reaching out to the public for input, she said, it is collecting data at intersections, onramps and the freeways related to traffic volume, speeds, types of vehicles, commute times and where motorists are coming from and heading.

Traffic-demand models will also be employed, Flint said, to study the effects a meter at one place could have on other places.

The ultimate goals, she said, are to decrease congestion and travel times.

Included in the study areas are Cathedral Oaks Road/Calle Real, Fairview Avenue/Hollister Avenue, Fairview Avenue/Calle Real, Patterson Avenue/Hollister Avenue and Turnpike Road/Hollister Avenue.

SBCAG and the other agencies are also looking at Highway 101 northbound and southbound onramps at Cathedral Oaks Road/Calle Real, Storke Road/Glen Annie Road, Los Carneros, Fairview Avenue, Patterson Avenue and Turnpike Road, as well as entering Highway 217 going westbound, and merging from Highway 217 onto Highway 101.

Workshop attendees were polled on the congestion they’ve experienced at these junctures, with Fairview Avenue/Calle Real and merging from Highway 217 onto Highway 101 emerging as the two biggest headaches in the city.

Ramp-meter technology has significantly improved since its introduction in the 1960s, explained Darryl dePencier, a planner with Kittelson & Associaties, the firm behind the study’s transportation analysis.

Ramp meters have been shown to increase freeway carrying capacity, he said.

“The ramp meter tries to trickle those cars in — even them out — so that instead of just getting slammed, it becomes a more consistent situation,” dePencier said.

Ramp meter systems are now accompanied by sensors in the ground on the ramps and on the freeway, and feed traffic-volume data to the signal so it can better regulate traffic, he said.

The technology is advanced enough now that it can begin to memorize traffic patterns so that it can predict and preempt congestion.

Meters typically aren’t in effect every hour of the day, dePencier added.

The three preliminary options the study group will consider are placing meters at congested spots, placing them “upstream” of those spots to preempt the congestion, and adding them at all Goleta onramps.

After gathering data and public input, Flint said, the study group will rank its options and present them at a second workshop in March or April.

The options will be refined based on that workshop, with the process culminating in a recommendation for the SBCAG policy board next summer or fall.

Flint emphasized that, based on data and public input, the options can change, and could include hybrids of the current ones, new ones entirely or none of the above.

The study is funded by a Caltrans planning grant.

Noozhawk staff writer Sam Goldman 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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