The Montecito segment of the Highway 101 corridor project was unanimously approved by the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission on Wednesday, and construction is expected to start next summer.
The entire project stretches from Santa Barbara to Mussel Shoals at the Ventura County line, and construction is underway on the Padaro and Summerland segments. A third lane is being added in each direction of Highway 101, and bridges are being widened to accommodate them.
Commissioners specifically approved the Montecito segments of the project: San Ysidro Road to Olive Mill Road, and Sheffield Drive to San Ysidro Road.
Conditions of approval include Caltrans possibly re-analyzing the use of sound walls (depending on timing of in-development FEMA flood maps), dust suppression using reclaimed water, construction support site noise shielding and a noise complaint system.
The miles-long construction zone includes a huge concrete mix site on the south side of the highway near Padaro Lane and a concrete recycling site on the north side.
Noise complaints and experience from previous segments of the project have led to changes, said Kirsten Ayars, a representative for the project and agencies including Caltrans and the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments.
They specifically made one-way truck access to the concrete mix site to avoid back-up beeping noises and turned off all of the alarms they were allowed to under OSHA rules, Ayars told the Planning Commission. Noise monitors from Caltrans and Granite Construction are on site every time the concrete mix site is operating, she added.
The project has a noise complaint process as a condition of approval, and Ayars said every complaint gets investigated and gets an individual response.
Having on-site concrete mixing equipment cuts down on truck trips and will save the project $10 million to $15 million, she said. After the two Montecito segments are constructed and paved, the concrete mixing facility will be removed and Caltrans will remediate the site with native landscaping.
Ayars also said the continuously reinforced concrete paving is a quieter, lower-maintenance surface than asphalt over the long term.
The project originally planned sound walls along the Montecito segment, but they were replaced by chain-link fences because of flooding concerns, SBCAG revealed earlier this year.
Montecito’s geography makes it susceptible to flooding and post-fire debris flows like the 2018 disaster that killed 23 people.
Ayars said in February that the highway acts “like a bathtub” for all the water that comes down from the hills. The project’s sound walls would contribute to flooding, an analysis found.
Caltrans is required to re-analyze the use of sound walls if the under-development FEMA flood maps are released and adopted by the county within six months of the Montecito segment getting fully funded, according to county staff.
Commissioner Laura Bridley thanked Caltrans, SBCAG, county staff and the Montecito Planning Commission for “getting the most significant public works project we’re going to see in this county in our lifetime through.”
The Montecito segment is an important link in the corridor and “there’s a lot of intense interest in it,” she noted.
“I appreciate the fact neighbors abutting it are struggling with it,” she said, “and again, it’s a greater good project for the whole county and the state of California.”
Commissioner Mike Cooney said he was looking for ways to improve the project, but “so much of it was done voluntarily.” He made a motion to approve the project as presented by staff.
The Planning Commission approved the project in a 5-0 vote.
Construction Timing and Funding Update
Construction on the Montecito segment is expected to start in mid-2023 and last until fall 2026, according to Caltrans and SBCAG.
The first phase of the Montecito segment is funded and the second phase isn’t yet.
The project has applied for state funding and will find out next summer whether that will be granted, staff said at Tuesday’s meeting.
SBCAG and Caltrans, which are managing the project, received a $75 million federal loan in October that the agencies say will help cash-flow needs.
Meanwhile, work is underway for “parallel projects” on local roads along the corridor, including the Olive Mill Road roundabout at the western edge of Montecito.