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Wednesday, January 16 , 2019, 7:12 pm | Fog/Mist 59º


Olive Mill Road Roundabout Sparks Drama at Santa Barbara-Montecito Meeting

Commissioners, public debate proposed change at intersection with Coast Village Road

Plans for a roundabout at Coast Village Road and Olive Mill Road in Montecito encountered considerable resistance Thursday at a joint meeting of the Santa Barbara and Montecito planning commission.
Plans for a roundabout at Coast Village Road and Olive Mill Road in Montecito encountered considerable resistance Thursday at a joint meeting of the Santa Barbara and Montecito planning commission. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

The city of Santa Barbara is seriously considering building another roundabout — at the corner of Olive Mill and Coast Village Roads — in an attempt to eliminate the congestion at the busy intersection. 

In a twist of irony, officials from the city, Caltrans and the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments admitted at a meeting Thursday that the closure of the Cabrillo Boulevard/Highway 101 northbound onramp and the roundabout installed at the other end of Coast Village Road improves traffic flow, but that it all comes to a sudden halt at the other end of Coast Village Road in front of the Montecito Inn.

The issue went before the Santa Barbara and Montecito planning commissions Thursday, in a rare, joint meeting of the two panels.

"That ramp was taken away and it didn't work," said Montecito Commissioner Jack Overall.

The roundabout took center stage at the meeting to talk about the $425 million project along 16 miles of Highway 101 between Ventura County and the city of Santa Barbara.

The project calls for adding a "high occupancy vehicle" or carpool lane in each direction and parallel projects, including the roundabout at Olive Mill and Coast Village roads, another possible roundabout at San Ysidro Road, and replacing and realigning the Union Pacific Railroad Bridge at Cabrillo Boulevard.

City staff did not prepare a report for the three-hour meeting, instead choosing to wing-it on the roundabout details.

The commissioners and members of the public disagreed on the need for a roundabout at Coast Village and Olive Mill roads.

Everyone acknowledge that the intersection as it stands now is awkward. Cars and bicyclists travel in five different directions alongside a crosswalk for pedestrians.

"Five points is too much, but people are good at it," said Montecito Planning Commission Chairman Michael Phillips. "Take away that backup on Coast Village road, and we are happy with it.

"It keeps that sense of semi-rural that we fight for all the time. Roundabouts are efficient, but they are not country."

He and others were hopeful that if the city and Caltrans would re-open the southbound onramp from Cabrillo Boulevard to Highway 101 that commuters would get on the highway there instead of through Coast Village Road, which is how they get there now.

Years ago, when the city closed the onramp, city planners contended that everyone would travel backwards to Milpas street to get on the highway. Motorists, however, aren't doing that.

More than 15,000 people commute from Ventura into Santa Barbara everyday, according to SBCAG. Congestion is thick during the morning and afternoon commute times, and officials believe that if no widening takes place, the highway in that spot would be congested non-stop all day.

Transportation Planner Rob Dayton said the intersection is not working right now, and at least one other option to fix it is off the table.

"A traffic signal creates more congestion," Dayton said. "A signal actually is off the table for this location. It would actually make it worse."

Montecito Commissioner J'Amy Brown questioned whether the roundabout is the right solution, personalizing the issue several times. 

"I really miss my skyscape," Brown said, referring to the lights on the roundabout at the other end of Coast Village Road.

If there's a new roundabout on the other end, "we truly need to look at what the impact is on the semi-rural character of Montecito," she said. 

She suggested getting "a bucket of paint" and re-striping the road as a quick fix to the traffic congestion. 

"I will be getting pushed around in a little stroller by the time this gets done," she said. 

Trey Pinner, vice president of the Coast Village Road Business Association, said he would like to see the idea move forward soon.

"We feel it is important that this project move forward," Pinner said. "We realize on Coast Village Road we are going to suffer a lot of pain for this construction period. We want to get it right and look back at the end of the day and say this was a good project.

Santa Barbara Planning Commissioner Deborah Schwartz peppered the SBCAG staff and Tony Harris, a consultant who used to be the chief deputy director of Caltrans, with questions about timeline and specific design of the project.

She said she wanted to see a more complete timeline of the project and an outreach plan. Harris said the roundabout work could begin in 2017, but Schwartz questioned whether that was possible.

"It's not lining up for me," Schwartz said. "I thought I would be seeing a more detailed and comprehensive plan."

Harris said he didn't have the answers.

"If I did try to give you a lot more detail at this point, I would be guessing, and I think that would be a mistake on my part," Harris said.

Schwartz said regardless of whether a southbound Highway 101 onramp at Cabrillo is re-opened, the roundabout or some other traffic fix on Coast Village and Olive Mill roads needs to move forward.

At the meeting she pulled out a memo from a decade ago showing that the roundabout was up for discussion at a Montecito Association meeting. 

"Let's address what for 10 years has been under discussion, and that is improved traffic circulation and congestion relief at Coast Village and Olive Mill Road," Schwartz said. 

The two panels took no action, and instead just gave comments. 

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina 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.

Olive Mill Roundabout Concept 

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