The fourth phase of the Highway 101 widening project spans from Carpinteria to Santa Barbara.  (SBCAG photo)

While construction isn’t expected to begin until late 2019 on the last phase of the massive Highway 101 widening project, officials now have an idea of which direction the work will proceed: starting in Carpinteria and working north toward Santa Barbara. 

The phase will add a high-occupancy vehicle lane in each direction of Highway 101 along the 10.9-mile stretch between the Andrée Clark Bird Refuge in Santa Barbara and just south of Bailard Avenue in Carpinteria.

Phases 1 and 2, which kicked off the overall widening project in 2008, broadened the freeway between Milpas Street in Santa Barbara and Hot Springs Road in Montecito, as well as between Carpinteria and La Conchita in Ventura County.

In September, work started on the four-year, $60 million Phase 3 in Carpinteria, which is reconstructing and widening Highway 101 overcrossings at Linden Avenue and Casitas Pass Road, reconstructing freeway bridges over Carpinteria Creek, extending Via Real more than a mile so it meets up with Linden Avenue, and improving various bicycle and pedestrian crossings.

The first segment of Phase 4 in Carpinteria, from Bailard Avenue northbound to the city limit, “is most ready for construction,” said Tony Harris, the Highway 101 corridor advisor to the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments, which is sponsoring the complex long-term project intended to relieve freeway congestion.

Construction will proceed northbound from there and likely finish with the segment in eastern Santa Barbara.

The next segment north of Carpinteria ends at Padaro Lane North, and would be followed by Padaro Lane North to the Sheffield Drive interchange, the Sheffield Drive interchange to Olive Mill Road, and Olive Mill Road to Sycamore Canyon.

While officials aren’t bound to that order, Harris said, segments further south are closer to having their designs finished and permits acquired.

The Carpinteria segment has the lowest cost per mile and simplest design, he explained. There is other project construction underway in the area, a local coastal plan amendment in place and funding programmed for fiscal year 2019-2020.

Construction for that 3.2-mile segment is expected to run from late 2019 to late 2023. Harris reported that a final design and certain permits are still needed.

Harris noted that a new cost analysis of Phase 4 put its price tag at $356 million — $90 million lower than a previous estimate after efficiencies are incorporated, like combining the phase with rehabilitation work on existing lanes, shoulders and ramps.

Most of the phase is funded by State Transportation Improvement Program money and local Measure A funds, though $188 million is still needed.

The phase’s final segment ending in Santa Barbara is the stickiest for the city, SBCAG and Caltrans.

It has the most expensive side projects, including a new intersection at Olive Mill and Coast Village roads, and is still only in the design-coordination stage.

Some Santa Barbarans have also been unhappy with the anticipated impacts that construction will have in the city.

Following a lawsuit challenging the project, a judge in 2015 ordered Caltrans to revise and recirculate a portion of its environmental impact report relating to the project’s traffic impacts on local intersections, many of which are in Santa Barbara.

City officials and many environmentally-minded residents objected to both the original and revised EIRs’ methodology for assessing impacts.

Caltrans expects the final revised EIR to be released in late spring.

Noozhawk staff writer Sam Goldman can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.