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Local News

Santa Barbara Scrambles to Ease Worsening Traffic Jam on Coast Village Road

With much of East Valley Road blocked in wake of disaster, Montecito crawls to a stop for residents and commuters alike

Coast Village Road has become even more of a parking lot since the deadly Montecito flash flooding and mud flows on Jan. 9. East Valley Road/Highway 192 is now closed at a couple of key locations, forcing more traffic to the mile-long Coast Village Road commercial district, which is slowed by four-way stop signs at the intersections of Middle and Olive Mill roads. Click to view larger
Coast Village Road has become even more of a parking lot since the deadly Montecito flash flooding and mud flows on Jan. 9. East Valley Road/Highway 192 is now closed at a couple of key locations, forcing more traffic to the mile-long Coast Village Road commercial district, which is slowed by four-way stop signs at the intersections of Middle and Olive Mill roads. (Bill Macfadyen / Noozhawk photo)

In the aftermath of the deadly Montecito flash flooding and mud flows, traffic on Coast Village Road has come to a screeching halt during much of the day, frustrating local residents, business owners, commuters and public officials.

Coast Village Road has long served as a surface street alternative whenever traffic backs up on nearby Highway 101. Plans to widen the two-lane freeway to three lanes in each direction have been stalled for years, and locals refer to the morning and afternoon commute bottleneck as “the Montecito crawl.”

A decade ago, Caltrans eliminated a southbound Highway 101 entrance ramp at Cabrillo Boulevard. As a result, the only freeway access point in each direction is at the far end of the City of Santa Barbara’s mile-long Coast Village Road commercial strip, which features a roundabout at the western end, a four-way stop at the halfway point at Middle Road and a traffic-snarling five-way stop at the Olive Mill Road intersection on the eastern end.

The Jan. 9 flood, mud and debris disaster blocked several key streets in Montecito, forcing traffic in the unincorporated community of nearly 9,000 residents to be rerouted to two or three alternatives. The result has made some commutes practically unbearable and even simple trips to the grocery store a grueling test of patience.

In the past week, traffic queues often stretched to 60 vehicles or more. Fleets of dump trucks and construction vehicles have added to the congestion.

“Our No. 1 problem is traffic,” Robert Ludwick, president of the Coast Village Association, told Noozhawk. “It has to be addressed now. The daily eastbound congestion getting to the Santa Barbara 101 at Olive Mill is absolutely unacceptable.”

Ludwick made the comments at a recent City Council meeting, where he called on the city to intervene immediately.

City traffic engineer Derrick Bailey said in an email to Noozhawk that major problems have been caused by the closure of East Valley Road/Highway 192 between Sycamore Canyon Road and Parra Grande Lane and east of Sheffield Drive, as well as recovery work and debris removal that will be going on indefinitely.

“First, Highway 192 (East Valley Road) is closed across Montecito,” he said. “That means almost all traffic between Santa Barbara and points south are being funneled onto either Highway 101 or Coast Village Road. On top of that, there is a significant amount of construction-related traffic ... that didn’t exist a few months ago.

“So, less roadway capacity combined with added construction-related traffic is causing added congestion.”

Bailey was blunt in his assessment.

California Highway Patrol Officers Mike Sims, right, and Shannan Sams spent a few hours Friday afternoon moving traffic through the heavily congested intersection of San Ysidro Road and North Jameson Lane in Montecito. The two Goleta-based officers were both working 12-hour shifts doing security patrols and traffic management. Click to view larger
California Highway Patrol Officers Mike Sims, right, and Shannan Sams spent a few hours Friday afternoon moving traffic through the heavily congested intersection of San Ysidro Road and North Jameson Lane in Montecito. The two Goleta-based officers were both working 12-hour shifts doing security patrols and traffic management. (Bill Macfadyen / Noozhawk photo)

“Congestion relief will not occur until Highway 192 reopens,” he wrote.

In the meantime, the city on Friday began the first of several changes to address the safety problems on Coast Village Road. Many motorists are darting into the parking strips alongside Coast Village Road to bypass stalled traffic, which presents a safety hazard.

Among the changes:

» Temporary all-way stop control at Coast Village Road/Butterfly Lane to reduce delay for side street traffic coming from the west end of Coast Village Circle and pedestrian crossings.

» Temporary all-way stop control at Coast Village Road and the eastern end of Coast Village Circle to reduce delay for side street traffic and pedestrian crossings.

» Increased traffic control and barriers along the Coast Village Road parking aisle to reduce cut-through traffic.

» Additional pedestrian warning signs at the midblock crosswalk in the 1100 block of Coast Village Road.

Late last week, the California Highway Patrol stationed two officers in the heavily clogged, four-way stop intersection of San Ysidro Road and North Jameson Lane to get traffic moving faster for several hours in the morning and again in late afternoon. Cars and trucks using the southbound San Ysidro Road exit ramp had been backing up on the freeway all the way back to Olive Mill Road, essentially reducing the highway to one lane through the area.

“It was already debilitating along Coast Village Road, and the situation had only gotten worse and more dangerous,” said City Councilwoman Kristen Sneddon, who added that she’s optimistic about the safety precautions the city has in the works.

Mayor Cathy Murillo urged people to consider alternative transportation, mentioning that Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District bus lines 14 and 20 are running.

“I’m extremely concerned about the traffic congestion,” she said. “The last thing we want to do is tell people to ‘stay away’ from the Coast Village area. To the contrary, we want people to visit the shops and restaurants.”

Caltrans spokesman Jim Shivers suggested that “part of the reason” for the increased congestion were the closures of Olive Mill Road north from Coast Village Road and roadblocks at condemned bridges on East Valley Road. He said the agency will be issuing a news release Monday with “a summary of (Highway) 192.”

Rob Dayton, Santa Barbara’s supervising transportation planner, said Coast Village Road has become “the bottleneck for everything” because it’s the only way for motorists to get to Highway 101 from Montecito. About 12,000 cars travel on East Valley Road per day, he said, and its closures mean they’re migrating to Coast Village Road to find the freeway.

Even before the flood-related closures on East Valley Road, Coast Village Road was often heavy with vehicles.

“Adding any traffic has exponential impact,” he said. “Thats where all the bottlenecks are. Adding any more trips to the bottleneck is going to compound the problem.”

Dayton said it has taken between 45 minutes to an hour to travel along Coast Village Road to get Highway 101.

As soon as East Valley Road is fixed, he added, “that will be the lion’s share of the problem.”

Dayton noted the traffic concerns raised by the Coast Village Association.

“There is so much pressure and delay, some people are making poor decisions by cutting into the parking lane,” he said. “It is not designed to be traveling. It’s a parking lot.”

Dayton said the city plans to meet with the Coast Village Association on Tuesday to talk about more traffic calming and safety measures.

Ludwick noted that many GPS-based navigation apps are telling drivers who are stuck on Highway 101 to get off on Coast Village Road to avoid traffic. He wants the city to step up and help immediately.

“I’m asking that the city install traffic and pedestrian controls along Coast Village Road at key intersections,” he said. “The traffic, now that it behaves the way that it does, has not been paying very close attention to pedestrians.

City Administrator Paul Casey said the traffic congestion on Highway 101 is a top priority, which is why the city on Friday began to install more stop signs, as well as diverters in the parking aisle to discourage the use of the parking area as a bypass lane.

“We will continue to analyze the situation and make adjustments as appropriate,” he said. “We will do the best we can, and take steps that we think might alleviate the situation. However, we expect congestion to remain until Highway 192 reopens and construction traffic subsides somewhat.”

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.

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