A roundabout, traffic signal or four-way stop at Highway 154 and Roblar Avenue along with unique pedestrian crossings in one city could be coming to the Santa Ynez Valley as a result of a study looking at traffic safety improvements.
The Santa Barbara County Association of Governments and the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians hosted a virtual community meeting Tuesday to talk about potential changes to key traffic corridors in the valley.
The meeting culminated an 18-month traffic circulation and safety study for a triangle bordered by Highways 246, 154 and 101.
“Behind it was really the philosophy that instead of just looking intersection by intersection we wanted to look regionally,” Third District Supervisor Joan Hartmann said, adding the study looks at today’s traffic issues along with future worries.
SBCAG’s Planning Director Michael Becker said the study arose from concerns relayed from residents to elected officials.
“The traffic circulation and safety study is the first step in bringing change, resolving the issues that you have brought to our attention,” Becker said.
Often traffic concerns center on congestion and slow-moving traffic, he added, particularly congestion on Mission drive through Solvang.
“We largely heard that elsewhere in the valley we need to slow down traffic,” Becker said, adding that western Buellton traffic worries have prompted school leaders to bus students to avoid having them walk across Highway 246.
One potential for slowing traffic on Highway 154 would be installation of roundabouts, traffic signals or four-way stop signs at busy intersections with Highway 154 and Roblar Avenue, which has seen several fatal crashes and remains a top concern.
“That is one we heard over and over again in this process,” Becker said. “We completely understand something needs to change at Roblar and the 154.”
A roundabout, traffic signal and four-way stop also have been suggested for Highway 154 in Los Olivos as a way to reduce speed.
“It’s not the 154 that’s causing it. It’s the traffic trying to enter or cross the 154 from those side streets, Foxen (Canyon Road) and Grand Avenue,” Becker said.
In addition to being the most controversial solution, roundabouts can be the most costly at $6.5 million to $7.5 million. By comparison, the price tag for traffic signals runs $350,000 to $450,000. An all-way stop would amount to $100,000 or less.
An existing roundabout at Highways 154 and 246 prompted a question about safety and claims about several near-misses.
“We believe that the addition of the roundabout coming at Edison/Baseline and with potential future roundabouts for intersection controls further north, a roundabout will no longer catch anybody off guard,” Becker said.
The report does not address the intersection of Highway 154 and Baseline Avenue/Edison Street since Caltrans intends to install a roundabout there. The state agency is well into the process, with plans to solicit bids for the work in 2021 and start construction soon after.
Becker said the study reviewed traffic safety data for the Highways 154/246 intersection before and after the roundabout’s installation and found a 60 percent reduction of crashes at the intersection and no fatal or severe injury collisions there.
“So the roundabout did provide a big improvement in safety,” Becker said, suggesting they could add a warning about the roundabout for approaching traffic.
The study also suggested a pedestrian scramble at the intersection of Mission Drive (Highway 246) and Alisal Road and others in the city of Solvang.
A pedestrian scramble involves signal timing to stop all vehicle traffic, allowing people to cross in all directions, including diagonally.
A proposed signalized crosswalk across Highway 246 in front of El Rancho Market and the Santa Ynez Valley Union High School prompted a letter from an advanced placement government class, Hartmann said.
“They write very favorably about that as an option,” she said.
One question focused on future development plans by the Chumash for the property known as Camp 4 near the intersection of Highways 154 and 246. Tribal leaders have said plans include housing and a tribal hall.
Tribal Chairman Kenneth Kahn said a master plan for the project remains in the works, with an environmental assessment and memorandum of understanding with Santa Barbara County already complete.
“We have a lot of work to do,” Kahn said. “We’ll certainly work with the county on our traffic circulation. If indeed 154 is the answer, that’s certainly going to have to be a conversation with Caltrans.
“Again, this is years out, but we look forward to continuing a discussion on how that project may have the least amount of impact,” he added.
Two SBCAG committees will review the study in coming weeks, and the entire SBCAG board will get a look at the report in late June.
The study report can be found on SBCAG’s website by clicking here. A recording of the meeting can be viewed at publicinput.com/t728 or at www.sbcag.org/syvprojects within two days after the May 19 meeting and through May 26. Comments and questions can be sent via email to Mike Becker, email@example.com