Guadalupe Mayor Ariston Julian, center, serves alongside Lompoc Mayor Jenelle Osborne and Solvang Mayor Mark Infanti on the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments board. Several Guadalupe items were on the agenda Thursday. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Work is scheduled to begin in early 2024 on a new traffic signal at a busy intersection between Santa Maria and Guadalupe, one of several short- and long-term projects targeted for Highway 166 in the coming years. 

The Santa Barbara County Association of Governments board also approved several preliminary items related to future projects on Highway 166, also known as West Main Street, and heard that the agency has received a grant for a Highway 166 Santa Maria-Guadalupe corridor study. 

SBCAG oversees regional issues with the board made up of the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors and members of local city councils.

On Thursday, the SBCAG board approved without comment several items related to the long-planned installation of a traffic signal at the intersection of West Main Street (Highway 166) and Black Road.

The panel awarded a contract for $2,564,010 to the lowest responsible bidder, Granite  Construction Co., the lone bidder.

The long-awaited project aims to improve operations and safety at the intersection for the busy Highway 166 used to connect Guadalupe with Santa Maria. A large number of agriculture-related vehicles also travel the route. 

Under the schedule, construction could begin early next year and be done by mid-2024. 

The project will come after debate about whether a traffic signal, roundabout or four-way stop should be installed at the intersection. 

A roundabout proposal drew strong opposition from the ag community worried about several aspects, including maneuvering trucks pulling trailers.

As that construction nears the start, officials from several agencies also have looked at other needed changes on Highway 166 within the Guadalupe city limits. 

Those include a future traffic signal at the intersection of Highways 1 and 166 plus changes at the intersection of Highway 166 and Obispo Street and Flower Street.

SBCAG agreed to a broad partnership with Caltrans, the City of Guadalupe and the Pasadena housing project for a consolidated project that considers changes needed at the intersections. 

“There’s quite a bit of effort that made this happen,” Mayor Ariston Julian said. 

Complicating matters are railroad tracks near the Highways 1/166 intersection along with plans for a new junior high school and commercial development near the Pasadera housing. Extremely busy ag businesses on the north side of the roadway add to congestion. 

In addition to the intersection changes, the collaboration will help create expanded drainage and pavement improvements, pedestrian and bike features, and Union Pacific Railroad crossing and signal improvements.

The SBCAG board’s approval kicks off the lengthy route to crafting and installing the improvements, which remain in the preliminary design stage, officials said. 

“As we go forward with this work and this approval you’re going to hopefully provide us today, that’s going to allow us to really have an excellent project that’s going to be transformative for the city,” Caltrans representative John Olejnik said.

In the near future, Caltrans plans to work with city leaders to conduct public outreach to discuss features of the proposed improvements.

Fourth District Supervisor Bob Nelson asked for the project’s return to the SBCAG board for review once the design is done, saying he wanted to see the proposal before construction.

“I know in the past sometimes Caltrans will go off and do what Caltrans wants to do once we give them the money, and we’ve had to be very careful with that,” Nelson said. “Black Road and Highway 166 is an example of that where if we would not have been engaged in that there would be a roundabout going in there. 

“Those are the things that I’m seeing moving forward that we should be keeping an eye on.”

Later in the meeting, SBCAG Executive Director Margie Kirn announced that Caltrans had awarded a $250,000 grant to complete a comprehensive corridor study on the road between Santa Maria and Guadalupe with work to begin in 2024.