With Caltrans sticking with its original plan to widen Highway 101 between Santa Barbara and Carpinteria, Santa Barbara County leaders must decide this week whether they support adding carpool lanes in both directions and changing some South Coast interchanges. 

It’s the last phase of a congestion-relief project that’s funded partly by county voter-approved Measure A funds and local state gas-tax funds.

The project, which involves adding a third lane for carpools in each direction, is expected to cost between $345 million and $455 million. 

Caltrans wants to finalize the environmental report without changing the scope of the project at all, Director Malcolm Dougherty told the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments in a December letter.

Dougherty is seeking support from SBCAG before moving forward with project approval for the three-mile stretch between Santa Barbara and Montecito.

Thursday’s SBCAG meeting will be in Santa Maria, since the location alternates every month.

The Montecito Association has been fighting to keep left-side on-ramps and off-ramps in Montecito, but Dougherty has repeatedly said it’s not possible. The original design would eliminate the left-side ramps at Sheffield Drive and Cabrillo Boulevard.  

Dougherty said left-side ramps are being systematically removed from highways around the country because they don’t meet design standards, they confuse drivers and the configuration with a six-lane freeway wouldn’t be possible.

The letter also states that there would be no cost savings if the left-side ramps were built after the third lanes were added. Those ramps would be in the way of Union Pacific Railroad tracks, frontage roads and private property, according to his letter.

“If SBCAG wants to move forward with the project, it should be understood that the left-side ramps are not a viable option,” Dougherty wrote to SBCAG.

Dougherty also wants local improvement projects to be considered separately, saying they would cause delays and cost much more money for the Highway 101 project.

Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider wants to include some city transportation projects — replacing the Cabrillo Boulevard railroad bridge and improving the Olive Mill Road and Coast Village Road interchanges — with the carpool lane project.

She has argued that the Highway 101 project, as designed, will add more traffic to local streets.

If SBCAG agrees with Caltrans, the state will take about six months to approve the final environmental impact report.

The board is scheduled to meet at 8:30 a.m. Thursday in the Board of Supervisors Hearing Room at 511 E. Lakeside Pkwy. in Santa Maria. Since the location alternates, February’s meeting will be held in Santa Barbara. 

The Measure A Citizens’ Oversight Committee will meet Wednesday night in Solvang to discuss Dougherty’s letter and the project. The committee will present its recommendations during Thursday’s SBCAG meeting.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at gmagnoli@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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Giana Magnoli, Noozhawk Managing Editor

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at gmagnoli@noozhawk.com.