Monday, March 19 , 2018, 2:25 pm | Fair 67º


Local News

SBCAG Expecting Caltrans’ Highway 101 Project Recommendation Within a Week

Local business leaders fly to Sacramento to meet with state transportation officials and to advocate to keep the plan on track

SACRAMENTO — Caltrans will make a recommendation for the Highway 101 high-occupancy vehicle project to the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments within a week, director Malcolm Dougherty said Monday.

Representatives from the Goleta Valley and Santa Barbara Region chambers of commerce flew up to Sacramento on Monday to meet with Dougherty and State Transportation Secretary Brian Kelly to advocate finishing the highway widening project, which would add a carpool lane in both directions between Santa Barbara and Carpinteria.

Kristen Miller, president and CEO of the Goleta Valley chamber, and Ken Oplinger, her counterpart at the Santa Barbara chamber, along with Goleta Valley chamber board chairman Tony Vallejo, talked about the importance of Highway 101 to local businesses, tourism and public safety.

Miller organized the trip on behalf of the two chambers, which represent more than 80,000 jobs on the South Coast. About 15,000 people commute to the Santa Barbara area from Ventura County every weekday.

They also reminded Dougherty and Kelly that Measure A, a half-cent county sales tax increase to fund transportation projects, made the Highway 101 widening project a top priority and is providing about a third of the funding for the estimated $345 million to $455 million project.

The Chambers of Commerce Alliance of Ventura & Santa Barbara Counties supports the project moving forward and sent a letter to Sacramento asking for it to get back on schedule.

Goleta Mayor Roger Aceves, the chairman of SBCAG, attended Monday's meetings to vocalize the area’s support for the project. He and the others in attendance said they're concerned that the project will be delayed by attempts from the Common Sense 101 Coalition and the Montecito Association to change the project and have its environmental impact report recirculated.

The delegation wasn't expecting to hear that Caltrans already has made a decision, which is being reviewed and supported by Kelly and Gov. Jerry Brown's office. Dougherty said he hopes a letter will be sent to SBCAG within a week.

In May, the SBCAG board voted to include the alternative in the environmental review and consider the Montecito groups' design ideas, which seek to keep the lefthand on-ramps and off-ramps. There hasn’t been an update from Caltrans since then.

Caltrans director Malcolm Dougherty, left, meets Monday in Sacramento with a South Coast delegation of business leaders, including Ken Oplinger, president and CEO of the Santa Barbara Region Chamber of Commerce, and Kristen Miller, president and CEO of the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk photo)
Caltrans director Malcolm Dougherty, left, meets Monday in Sacramento with a South Coast delegation of business leaders, including Ken Oplinger, president and CEO of the Santa Barbara Region Chamber of Commerce, and Kristen Miller, president and CEO of the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce. (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk photo)

Dougherty was adamant at the May meeting that his staff would never consider keeping left-hand ramps, which the department considers a liability issue. On Monday, he conveyed to the South Coast delegation that the recommendation won’t include them in the project.

He interpreted the May vote as asking for recirculation, but he isn't recommending that.

“Even if I recirculate the draft environmental document, which is what I think (SBCAG) asked me to do, it’s not going to change how the department sees some of the safety features, but it will delay and cost a lot of money,” Dougherty said. “I will respect the decision that they made as long as they know what those implications are.”

Aceves said the board never asked for recirculation, just consideration and review of the Montecito coalition’s ideas.

“I want to be able to tell (the board), and I heard it from Kelly a little bit ago, that you listened to everybody and considered everybody,” Aceves said.

“But ultimately, you’re the engineer, you’re going to build this thing and you’re going to build it to the safety requirements as set forward by your organization.”

 Dougherty said Caltrans is glad to collaborate on other concerns, such as construction staging plans and where the HOV lanes start and stop, but some factors are “not necessarily negotiable” for safety reasons. He said he needs to move forward with the support of SBCAG, since the majority of funding is local.

“I don’t want another 20-year holy war,” he said. “So at the very least, I need to make sure that SBCAG is in concurrence with the path that I’m going.”

Kelly was on the same page, saying the state wants to work together and not impose a project on the region.

SBCAG staff will prepare a presentation for a future board meeting once the agency receives the letter, but it probably can’t be scheduled before at least December, Aceves said.

Dougherty and Kelly have met many times with advocates from the Montecito Association and the Common Sense 101 Coalition and have tried to work with them as much as possible, they said.

“It comes down to, we’re going to have to agree to disagree on certain items,” Dougherty said.

Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider has recently asked for changes to the project as well.

At a Sept. 5 Planning Commission meeting, she said the project should make a roundabout at Olive Mill and Coast Village roads and widening the Union Pacific Railroad bridge over Cabrillo Boulevard “conditions of approval.” She said they would be essential to making the Highway 101 project work and noted the city has so much of its money committed to the project already.

Caltrans staff has stressed that the improvements must be compatible with the community and last a long time. It’s probably the last time the state will touch Highway 101 in this area for another 20 or 30 years, Dougherty said.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli 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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