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Local News

SBCAG Urged to Keep Moving Forward with Highway 101 Widening Project

Caltrans expects to have new information — or at least more — for the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments in December, when the board will discuss the South Coast Highway 101 HOV lane project.

The 10-mile Highway 101 project is taxpayer-funded, including voter-approved Measure A money and local state gas-tax funds, and is expected to cost $345 million to $455 million.

Caltrans plans to add a third, carpool lane to both directions of Highway 101 and modify the Cabrillo Boulevard and Sheffield Drive interchanges to eliminate the left-side entrance and exit ramps. It also would close the southbound Los Patos Way exit at the Andree Clark Bird Refuge.

SBCAG directors voted to have a Dec. 19 meeting even though at least two members will be absent, but agreed not to make any final decisions at that time.

The project was not on Thursday’s agenda, but the board ended up discussing it quite a bit.

Many people came out during public comment asking the board to keep moving forward with the carpool lane project, while the Montecito Association and Common Sense 101 Coalition representatives told the board that Caltrans hadn’t properly analyzed traffic or accident data.

Joe Armendariz, speaking for the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association, urged the board to take Caltrans’ recommendation seriously and move forward with the project that voters put as the top priority for Measure A transportation funding.

Nothing should be done to delay the project or jeopardize funding, he said.

Carpinteria Valley Chamber of Commerce government relations director Pat Kistler said two board members had left-side off-ramp accidents recently when out-of-town people rear-ended them, since they don’t expect the exits.

Brendan Huffman, representing the Chamber Alliance of Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties, said the 11 chambers supported Measure A and there is now a sense of frustration among businesses, especially ones with employees who commute to work.

The high-occupancy vehicle lane needs to be finished to relieve congestion and get more people to participate in ride sharing, he said. Safety concerns should be considered, but accident data doesn’t include all the close calls when cars swerve across lanes to exit on the left, he noted.

Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Kristen Miller said the chamber supports certifying the environmental impact report and moving on with the project.

There have been a lot of related items that people want included in the project — such as a roundabout at Olive Mill Road and widening of the Cabrillo Boulevard Union Pacific Railroad bridge — but those should be handled separately and not delay the carpool lane, she said.

Five years ago, 79 percent of county voters made widening the Highway 101 the highest priority, she said.

“We want our train and a lane,” she said.

Common Sense 101 Coalition leader Jack Overall said Caltrans has “offered no documents, no rebuttal, no discussion” about safety analysis for left-side ramps. His group argues that the Sheffield Drive and Cabrillo Boulevard ramps have below-average accident rates.

A meeting last Friday was called after Santa Barbara County First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal asked Caltrans to postpone its imminent recommendation on moving forward with the project, pending a meeting with the Montecito Association and Common Sense 101 Coalition.

Overall and Pulice gave Caltrans an independent engineering report talking about the accident rates on the Sheffield and Cabrillo intersections.

Gubbins believes he will be ready to answer questions and present findings from looking over the Montecito coalition’s independent engineering report at the December meeting. The report doesn’t include different data, but has different interpretation of what accidents may be applicable to study, he said.

Coalition member Ron Pulice said Caltrans may have policies for state projects but this one is “very unique and has unique features.”

Since local taxpayers are paying for most of the project, SBCAG and Caltrans should consider the coalition’s lower-cost plan as an alternative, he added.

Montecito Association president David Kent said the coalition has done more engineering and investigative work on this project than Caltrans since the draft EIR was released.

Andy Caldwell, director of the county Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business, said he doesn’t care about left-side ramps but SBCAG has an unequivocal commitment to taxpayers to widen the freeway.

“We understand the arguments that (other plans) could save time and money, but delay and litigation is not going to save time and money either,” he said. “I want a commitment from the City of Santa Barbara and Supervisor Salud Carbajal that in no way will they jeopardize the funding for this project over this fight.”

Transportation advocates, such as Santa Barbara County Action Network head Ken Hough, asked SBCAG not to cut down the carpool designation for the third lane either, since Montecito activists are asking for the carpool designation to skip Montecito.

The four miles in the Summerland and Montecio area are the most congested and most critical area to have a HOV lane, he said.

The Highway 101 project is on the agenda for the December meeting and played into the discussion of whether to hold or cancel the meeting.

A few SBCAG members said they were getting more concerned that Caltrans hasn’t done enough research for the project and wanted to discuss the project as soon as possible.

The board voted to discuss the project in December, when they might ask Caltrans and SBCAG staff for more information. Construction isn’t scheduled to begin until 2017.

“I think it’s important that we get a definitive report so we don’t keep having circular discussions,” Supervisor Janet Wolf said.

Carbajal said he hopes Caltrans won’t try to certify the EIR, and Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider asked Caltrans District 5 Director Tim Gubbins to assure the board that Caltrans wouldn’t certify the EIR before the December meeting, and Gubbins agreed.

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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