All I Want for Christmas is a Wider 101

By Bob Hazard   |   December 27, 2018

The Highway 101 corridor between the Ventura County Line and Santa Barbara is by far the most heavily traveled roadway in Santa Barbara County. Traffic estimates are that by 2020, some 100,000 cars and trucks will pass through Montecito every day. Many of these re-route through local streets, primarily on either the North Jameson frontage road or up Sheffield to East Valley, across East Valley to Hot Springs and down Hot Springs to re-enter the 101.

In the widening plan, there are no new overpasses planned for either the San Ysidro Road or Olive Mill Road interchanges. Caltrans notes that once the widening project is completed, the Montecito community cannot expect any future major improvements to the 101 for the foreseeable future. That means that the San Ysidro 101 overpass and two Olive Mill overpasses, one a southbound on-ramp, just past the Montecito Inn, and the other an Olive Mill overpass to the Biltmore and Butterfly Beach, both built in 1956, will be 70 years old by the time of the widening in 2025, but will be over 100 years old by the time they are next considered for replacement.

The story of the 101 widening from the Milpas Interchange in Santa Barbara to Mussel Shoals and the Ventura County line represents a study in Caltrans engineering, political intrigue, permitting leverage, and negotiated funding. 

Phase 1. Widening of the 101 from the Milpas interchange to Hot Springs Road (2012-2015); Project Cost: $53 million, including the Montecito roundabout. Funding: fully funded by the Regional Improvement Program (RIP) and Measure D. 

Unfortunately, the Milpas to Hot Springs widening included closure of the southbound 101 entrance ramp at the Cabrillo Boulevard interchange, diverting East and West Beach traffic through Coast Village Road to enter the southbound 101 at Olive Mill Road. In 2008, the traffic count for that now-closed southbound 101 on-ramp was 4,450 cars and trucks per day, or 1.6 million vehicles per year diverted onto Coast Village Road. This error in planning and judgment is responsible for the almost daily traffic horror show on Coast Village Road and Coast Village Circle. 

Phase 2. Widening of 101 from Mussel Shoals to Carpinteria (2012-2015); Project Cost: $100 million, funded from Prop 1B Bond funding. 

The 101 freeway was widened to three lanes in each direction from the Ventura County line near Mussel Shoals, past La Conchita, to Carpinteria, a distance of six miles. Included in the project was reconstruction of the Bates Road overpass, and upgrades to selected on/off ramps. 

Phase 3. Linden Avenue and Casitas Pass overpasses in Carpinteria (2016-2019, depending upon weather and utility relocations). Project Cost: $60 million, funded by Regional Improvement Program (RIP) funding.

The Linden Avenue and Casitas Pass overpasses are now being reconfigured, reconstructed, and widened to three lanes. Most on-off ramps are being reconstructed or improved. Local circulation improvements include roadway extensions, new bike paths, longer overcrossings, and wider and safer on/off ramps. Via Real is being extended from east of Carpinteria Creek to connect to Linden Avenue to improve local traffic circulation. Carpinteria Creek bridges have been raised 10 feet higher for greater flood protection. New bike paths and a new roundabout near Linden Avenue are included. 

Phase 4. Widening of Highway 101 from Carpinteria to Santa Barbara (2020-2030); Project Cost: $585 million, funded by Measure A, RIP) Senate Bill 1 and federal and state gas taxes. Status: start date of the five phases: 4A, 4B, 4C, 4D, and 4E completion dates unknown. 

The widening of Highway 101 to three lanes in each direction from Carpinteria to Santa Barbara, known as Phase 4, covers a distance of 10.9 miles. The widening is expected to be completed in five segments starting in Carpinteria, moving northward, depending upon available funding. The cost per mile of each widening segment becomes progressively more expensive and complex as the widening moves northward from Carpinteria to Santa Barbara. 

Segment 4A. Widening within the City of Carpinteria boundaries; Project Cost: $87 million funded by RIP, Measure A and SB1 Trade Corridors Enhancement Program (TCEP). Start Date: Hoping for mid-2020. Completion Date: Possibly 2023. Approval Authority: City of Carpinteria, California Coastal Commission.

Caltrans will widen to three lanes in each direction from Bailard Avenue to the northern Carpinteria city limit at Santa Claus Lane. Detailed design is at 95% for freeway improvements that include new bridges over Franklin Creek and Santa Monica Creeks. All on/off ramps will be updated. Design details have been approved by Carpinteria’s Architectural Review Board and are scheduled to go to the Planning Commission in 2019. This project is said to be shovel ready for construction, beginning in 2020.

The California Coastal Commission, which must sign off on permits, is concerned about the wetland buffer encroachment. It is demanding added funding for bikeways, buffered multi-use pathways to enhance the California Coastal Trail on the ocean-side, pedestrian trails on the mountainside, and increased coastal access, in return for its approval.

Segment 4B. Widening from the Carpinteria city-line to the North Padaro Lane interchange; Project Cost: $140 million. Start Date: Hopefully mid-2021. Completion Date: Possibly late 2024. Approval Authority: County of Santa Barbara.

Initial bridge designs have begun for County segments at the South Padaro Lane undercrossing, Arroyo Parida Creek bridge and the Toro Canyon Creek bridge. 

Segment 4C. Summerland widening from the North Padaro Lane intersection to the Sheffield intersection; Project Cost: $89 million. Tentative Schedule: Unknown. Possibly 2021-2024 in conjunction with 4B. Approval Authority: County of Santa Barbara.

The Sheffield intersection will be totally rebuilt. The Montecito community needs to focus its efforts and limited voice on trying to build a scenic Sheffield interchange. Bridge widening for the Evans Avenue underpass and ramp improvements are also planned.

Segments 4D and 4E. Widening from Sheffield Drive interchange to the currently widened 101 beyond the Cabrillo/Hot Springs interchange; Project Cost: $250 million, but is as yet unfunded, unpermitted, and unscheduled. Could be started as early as 2025; completed by 2029-30. Project Authority: San Ysidro interchange, County of Santa Barbara; Olive Mill and Cabrillo interchanges, City of Santa Barbara.

Because of the narrow right-of-way through Montecito, this is the toughest and most expensive widening on the entire 101. Phases 4D & E will widen Highway 101 to three lanes in each direction between Romero Creek in Montecito (west of Sheffield Drive) and Sycamore Creek in the City of Santa Barbara (east of Salinas Street). Creek bridges will be replaced at Montecito, San Ysidro, Oak, and Romero Creeks. The design phase will integrate some operational and safety improvements on Highway 101 and the ramps.

Our community needs to focus its efforts and limited voice on mitigating the prospect of a thin concrete median barrier with no landscaping; maximizing outside shoulder widths; and the practical effect of some lanes reduced from 12 foot to 10 ½ feet to fit the right-of-way.

The San Ysidro Road southbound on-ramp, also known as the Posilipo Lane ramp, past the Rosewood Miramar Beach Resort, is difficult to navigate because of its non-standard, shortened acceleration length. It has been referred to as “an accident waiting to happen.” What is needed is 1) to widen the right-of-way by acquiring and removing the two historic homes on the right as you enter the southbound 101, and 2) to have negotiated with the Miramar, prior to its construction approvals, for a widened South Jameson right-of-way. Neither of these happened under former County Supervisor Salud Carbajal.

The southbound off-ramp at San Ysidro is also negatively impacted by its proximity to the Olive Mill on-ramp. In addition, no additional lanes are planned for the San Ysidro Road overpass over the 101, as is the case for both overpasses in Carpinteria. A new, but unfunded roundabout at North Jameson and San Ysidro is in preliminary design.

Olive Mill Road. The northbound 101 off-ramp feeds directly into the 5-way intersection at Coast Village Road and Olive Mill. A new, but as yet unfunded, roundabout is being proposed by the City of Santa Barbara.

Hot Springs-Cabrillo Boulevard. The overpass over Cabrillo Boulevard will be rebuilt. A new southbound on-ramp replacing the left-hand ramp closed during the previous Milpas to Hot Springs widening will be added. The City of Santa Barbara has negotiated widening the Cabrillo Blvd Union Pacific railroad bridge overpass to better accommodate a right-lane turn onto the 101 southbound. Reopening the southbound on-ramp at Cabrillo Blvd is essential to reducing traffic congestion on Coast Village Road. The current left-lane northbound off-ramp at Cabrillo will be replaced with a safer traditional right-lane exit, exiting onto Cabrillo Boulevard near the current Coast Village Road traffic circle.

Hermosillo Drive-Coast Village Road Exit. The northbound off-ramp at Hermosillo was originally considered for closure or scheduled to be retained as the only northbound off-ramp for the Cabrillo Interchange. Thanks to vocal efforts by the Hermosillo Homeowners’ Association and the Middle Road Homeowners’ Association during the Draft EIR comment period, retaining the Hermosillo Drive-Coast Village Road exit with a second northbound exit provided to Cabrillo Boulevard was included in the Caltrans preferred final F-modified plan for the 101 improvement.

Los Patos Way Southbound Exit. The existing southbound 101 off-ramp with the undersized railroad bridge clearance will be closed.

The Bottom Line

After 30 years of planning and false steps, the majority of Montecito residents say, “Get on with it.” Although it will be painful, we should widen the 101 as quickly as possible. We cannot function as a community without having a more efficient commuter corridor for our large and growing Ventura-based work force.

This community and the political leaders at SBCAG need to get on the same page, develop a passion for the exchange of ideas, a voracious appetite for real solutions and the wisdom to recognize that gridlock and further delay are not our friends.


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