What’s Up with the Highway 101 Widening?

By Bob Hazard   |   August 8, 2019

Last week, I had lunch with the two people who will either make your life more miserable or much happier over the next 10 years. They are the principal players in the widening of the US 101 as it slowly migrates northward toward Montecito.

Scott Eades is the Caltrans point person designated as the Santa Barbara 101 Corridor Manager. Eades has responsibility for the corridor design, permitting, and construction of the US 101 widening project from Carpinteria to Santa Barbara.

For most Californians, the word “Caltrans” (California Department of Transportation) evokes an image of a big, faceless bureaucracy, inefficient and totally devoid of any concern for beauty, charm, and aesthetics. Scott Eades offers Montecito the exact opposite, but must work within the confines of the existing, restricted right-of-way that plagues the Montecito widening project.

Fred Luna is the Principal Transportation Engineer for SBCAG (Santa Barbara Association of Governments). The role of SBCAG is to address congestion relief in Santa Barbara County, administer Measure A sales tax funds approved by the voters in 2008, and aggressively pursue state and federal funding for identified transportation projects. 

Why is SBCAG Important to Montecito?

A seat at the SBCAG table provides more leverage to plan local transportation needs, including community allocations of available funding. The 13 voting members are the five County of Santa Barbara Supervisors representing the 445,606 county residents, plus the mayors or their representatives from the eight incorporated cities in the county – Santa Maria (106,290 residents), Santa Barbara (92,101), Lompoc (43,712), Goleta (31,116), Carpinteria (13,684), Guadalupe (7,321), Solvang (5,802), and Buellton (5,095). 

 Montecito with 8,905 residents and Summerland with 1,448 are unincorporated and thus have no seats at the SBCAG table. Smaller Guadalupe (7,321 residents), Solvang (5,802), and Buellton (5,095) each have a transportation seat and an SBCAG vote to bargain among themselves for parallel project funding. Montecito is represented by Das Williams, who also represents the interests of Carpinteria, most of the City of Santa Barbara and Cuyama.

The Civil Engineering firm Mark Thomas has been retained by SBCAG as its Primary Design Consultant in the northern segments of the corridor.

Current Status of the 101 Widening Program

In October 2005, the SBCAG Board approved its “Lane and a Train” plan to resolvethe growing congestion problem along 16 miles of the Highway 101 corridor from Mussel Shoals to the City of Santa Barbara by adding an HOV carpool lane to the two existing lanes in each direction.” Here is what happened.

PHASE 1

The 1st phase of the 101 widening from Milpas to Hot Springs began construction in 2008 and was completed in 2012 at a cost of $96 million. It included an elaborate and expensive Milpas Street interchange, two miles of widening the 101, the Sycamore Creek bridges, a Cacique Street connection, a city-owned Montecito roundabout; and improved pedestrian and bike access.

Shortfalls in final funding due to increased costs at Milpas led to a closure of the 101 left-hand on-ramp at Cabrillo Blvd and a widening that fell short of the southbound Olive Mill exit. Not to worry, the next wave of widening would correct these shortcomings.

Unfortunately, a two-year fight between Caltrans and the Montecito community over retaining left-hand ingress and egress to the hi-speed HOV lanes stopped approval of the necessary Caltrans environmental EIR. Faced with uncertainty and lawsuits, Caltrans and SBCAG shifted widening priorities to communities further south.

PHASE 2

The second phase of the 101 widening began construction in 2012 and was completed in 2015 at a cost of $101 million. The scope of work includedsix miles of widening the 101;four miles of scenic Class 1 bike lanes adjacent to the Pacific Ocean; and theLa Conchita pedestrian tunnel crossing under the freeway. Costs were under budget. 

PHASE 3

The third phase of the 101 widening began construction in 2016 and is expected to be completed in 2020 at a cost of $115 million. The City of Carpinteria bargained with Caltrans and SBCAG for funding a new Casitas Pass Road overcrossing widened to three lanes and a new Linden Avenue overcrossing, widened to three lanes, each with four new on-off ramps.

Other funded projects in Carpinteria included extensions of the Via Real connection to improve local traffic circulation; new 10-foot higher bridges over Carpinteria Creek to improve habitat and reduce flooding; a new Ogan Road roundabout to connect Linden, Ogan Road and Via Real; four new sound walls to reduce highway noise; and extensive new bike and pedestrian pathways to create a seamless scenic connection to the Mussel Shoals coastal pathways.

PHASE 4

The final 10.9 miles phase of the 101 widening promises to be the most challenging, most expensive, and most prone to delay. The total estimated cost of the project is $425 million in construction costs alone. The project will be funded by $140 million from Measure A, the local transportation sales tax, and $285 million in state and federal funding.

Because of its complexity, the Phase 4 widening project will be broken down into five segments – 4A, 4B, 4C, 4D, and 4E. Each segment could take 2+ years to construct, given the complexities of construction in the narrowest and most restricted corridor on the 101. 

Phase 4A will widen the 101 to three lanes in each direction for 3.2 miles within the City of Carpinteria boundaries from just north of the Bailard Avenue interchange to the northern Carpinteria city limit south of Santa Claus Lane. The project includes new bridges over Franklin and Santa Monica Creeks along with ramp improvements at Santa Monica Road, Carpinteria Avenue, and Reynolds Avenue. Four new sound walls are planned. Projected construction cost is $86.5 million. The project is fully funded and could be completed in 2-3 years.

Phase 4B will widen Highway 101 to three lanes in each direction between the northern boundary of the City of Carpinteria to just past the North Padaro Lane interchange in Summerland. The project includes new bridges over Toro and Arroyo Parida Creeks and the South Padaro Lane Undercrossing. Ramp improvements will occur at South and North Padaro Lanes. There are three sound walls in Phase 4B. Projected construction cost is $139.3 million. The project is in final design and is fully funded. 

Phase 4C will widen Highway 101 to three lanes in each direction from just north of the Padaro Lane interchange in Summerland to just north of the Sheffield Drive interchange in Montecito. The 4C project includes new bridges for the Evans Avenue and Sheffield Drive interchanges. Ramp improvements will occur at Sheffield Drive, Evans Avenue, and Wallace Avenue. There are two sound walls in Phase 4C – one on the north side of the 101 just past the Sheffield interchange and the other on the north side, just past the Evans Avenue underpass. Projected construction cost is $88.5 million. The project is in final design and is fully funded. 

Phases 4D and 4E are still unfunded and in the design stage. The plan is to widen US 101 to three lanes in each direction from Romero Creek in Montecito (just north of Sheffield Drive) to Sycamore Creek in the City of Santa Barbara and to hook up with the Phase 1 Milpas widening project. 

Flood control bridges will be replaced at San Ysidro, Oak, and Romero Creeks. Reconstruction and relocation of the Cabrillo Boulevard overpass and a new southbound on-ramp at Cabrillo Blvd are planned. SBCAG has provided the City of Santa Barbara with project funding for environmental, design, and right-of-way to widen the Cabrillo Union Pacific Railroad bridge to accommodate cyclists and pedestrians, as well as a new roundabout at the Los Patos-Cabrillo intersection. Discussion continues on possible roundabout improvements at San Ysidro and Olive Mill. 

Funding applications will be submitted for state and federal funding in March 2020. With the narrowest and most restricted corridor in the entire 16-mile widening, it is hard to visualize a speedy construction schedule. Most construction will be done at night. The project team is committed to keeping two lanes of traffic open during daytime peak hours and at least one lane open at night. Daytime storage space for construction equipment and materials will be limited. 

Visual Impacts

The natural setting of the corridor with the mountains on one side and the ocean on the other, along with distinctive vegetation in the median and along much of the right-of-way, makes driving along US 101 a scenic experience. These natural features coupled with the narrow corridor present unique challenges to physically widen the 101 with aesthetic integrity when median landscaping cannot be retained. The problem becomes how to make six lanes fit in a corridor that is only big enough for four lanes.

Corridor Widths

The restricted Montecito corridor, with its 2-foot-wide median concrete barrier, will not allow for median landscaping, nor for 10-foot inside shoulders for highway maintenance crews, trash removal and accident pull-offs. All six traffic lanes will be a standard 12-foot width. A 10-foot outside shoulder may provide additional room for adequate landscaping. Longer acceleration lanes are also under review. Eades will do everything possible to mitigate the engineering challenges.

Following Progress

Full funding has been secured for the Carpinteria, Padaro interchange, and Summerland segments (4A to 4C). Innovative project delivery methods are being studied with the hopes for shortened construction time and reduced traffic disruption. Quiet pavement will be included on all lanes to reduce noise. County and City planners will determine landscaping and aesthetic treatments, hopefully with local input. Follow the progress updates on www.SBROADS.com.

Conclusion

Your Highway 101 voice may be tiny, but it is all Montecito has. Attend Caltrans briefings and speak up. Otherwise, you and 9,000 of your neighbors will have to live with whatever Santa Barbara city and county planners think is best for us for the next 10, plus the following 75, years.

 

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