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Friday, December 14 , 2018, 2:26 pm | Fair 65º


Ron Fink: Central and H — Lompoc Traffic Nightmare

The intersection of Central Avenue and H Street (Highway 1) at the north end of Lompoc is the most congested in town.

In fact, the stretches of road between O Street and H Street on Central and Pine streets and the Wye area on H Street are frequently congested to the point that traffic cannot move at the posted speed limit between noon and 7 p.m. on most days of the week.
What can be done about all that traffic?
Urban planners and liberal politicians champion “high-density” development, packing large numbers of people into compact areas, as a way of preserving open space and theoretically to help save the planet.

Like the Asians, and to some extent the Europeans, they think that having shopping, residential and work spaces centralized doesn’t cause problems. This is a seriously misguided philosophy for many reasons.

First, folks in the western United States don’t like to be crammed into to urban centers; here, escaping to the suburbs is the dream of working people.

Second, people get annoyed by other people’s noises, odors and sounds when you put too many of them in tight spaces.

Third, there is the traffic congestion associated with masses of people, because the places people work are frequently a long way from their homes.
I have been a planning commissioner in Lompoc for more than 15 years. During that time, I’ve seen a considerable amount of development at the north end of town and in the surrounding county areas.

Each project contributes to congestion and each pays “traffic impact fees” as part of the development costs. These fees are supposed to help mitigate the impact of the new traffic that’s generated because of the project by providing cash for future road projects.
From the start of my tenure on the planning commission, each new project has promised to improve traffic flow and all the developers agreed to pay their fair share — at the PC meeting. Keep in mind, the PC only provides recommendations to the City Council on these matters; the council gives final approval.
But many of these developers beg to have the traffic fees deleted during the council hearing to approve their project.

In many cases, the council is persuaded by the argument that the project will generate so much tax money for the general fund that it is imperative the council approve their request. They may, but that doesn’t fix the problem they collectively create.
In one case several years ago, a large development was going to trigger a dramatic change to the density of traffic at the intersection of Central and H, so it required the level of service be changed to allow longer waits while in traffic.

I did not support this change and voted against it. However, a willing council changed the designation to accommodate the developer.
Now back to the promise to improve traffic flow. Even though development of high-traffic businesses and large housing developments continues, nothing has been done to address traffic concerns in the last 30-plus years.

Since H Street is the only access to Lompoc from the north or exit from the south, thousands of cars and trucks pass through it each day.
Caltrans is responsible for Highway 1 (H Street) and therefore its engineers will have to fix the problem. It will cost a lot of money to re-engineer this intersection and the entire corridor, but they don’t seem to be making much progress. Why?
Improvements that have been talked about for years include adding turn pockets and widening a bridge, which will be very expensive.

If you think traffic is bad when construction reduces traffic to one lane for a few hours, wait until they start a bridge-widening project which will most likely result in single-lane traffic in both directions for months.
It will take a political commitment from the City Council to make anything happen.

The Santa Barbara County Association of Governments (SBCAG) is the source for money for traffic related improvements. It’s time to ramp up the pressure on SBCAG to provide funding for this project. And, the council has to stop allowing developers to avoid traffic impact fees.
But, what is the city planning to do? Tonight, the staff will recommend that the council “eliminate the North H Street Capacity Improvements from the impact fee calculation and reduce the Fee by 70.4%.”
This seems to be the wrong way to “fix the problem.” Leadership is needed here or the traffic will only get worse as pending projects are built. City leaders want the tax money generated by projects and with it comes a responsibility to keep the wheels of commerce moving.

— Ron Fink, a Lompoc resident since 1975, is retired from the aerospace industry and has been active with Lompoc municipal government commissions and committee since 1992, including 12 years on the Lompoc Planning Commission. He is also a voting member of the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association. Contact him at [email protected]. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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