Meet Dave Emerson, Interim Highway 101 Corridor Manager

By Nick Schou   |   February 4, 2021
Dave Emerson, Interim Highway 101 Corridor Manager

Last time inthis ongoing series of profiles of the people leading the 101 Freeway widening project currently taking place in Carpinteria, Summerland, and Montecito, we introduced you to the project’s head honcho, Fred Luna, director of project delivery and construction for the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments. This month, we introduce readers to another high-level supervisor, Dave Emerson, followed by the latest construction and traffic updates on the project. “Dave is a big part of our wonderful 101/HOV team that continues to deliver much needed transportation upgrades to south coast communities along this busy corridor,” Caltrans District 5 Director Tim Gubbins told the Journal.

Q. What is your job title and basic job description, and what is your key role in the Highway 101 widening project?

A. I’m a Caltrans Project Manager and the Interim Highway 101 Corridor Manager. I manage the Highway 101 segments in Carpinteria and Summerland as a project manager. As the Interim Highway 101 Corridor Manager, I work with Santa Barbara County Association of Governments (SBCAG), legislators, permitting agencies, and our local city and county partners on everything concerning Highway 101 south of Milpas Street.

Can you tell us a bit about your background and other projects you’ve worked on in the past?

I’m a landscape architect and graduated from Cal Poly. Prior to joining Caltrans, I worked in the private sector for 13 years with a key focus on large scale design for residential and commercial projects in California’s Central Valley. At Caltrans, the challenge is to create landscape designs that are as effective at freeway speed as residential projects are for someone walking into their home. After blending plantings with new transportation improvements, it made sense to move into project management to help entire projects effectively blend a mix of uses for people and circulation.

Can you explain a bit about your work so far on the Highway 101 project?

I started with this project in 2007 as the project landscape architect. At that time, our team task was to create project alternatives and technical studies for the environmental impact report that matched the character of the area while minimizing impacts, improving safety, and addressing traffic congestion.

This helped me become intimately familiar with the existing vegetation, what works and what doesn’t, and how we can incorporate more local sensibilities into our choices. In 2016, I transitioned to project management and have since been working with our local partners to help bring these options forward to create effective solutions that we can all use.

What is the most exciting work going on in the Highway 101 project?

This project has unique and interesting design themes. Because the improvements will stretch from the City of Santa Barbara to Carpinteria the design needs to account for creating some unifying elements for this beautiful coastal stretch while recognizing the differences in our local communities. It is challenging and rewarding to work with hardscapes (i.e. concrete, walls, and bridges) and mix in landscaping to help these segments improve safety and reduce traffic congestion while at the same time maintain the magnificent viewsheds, celebrate local architecture, and fit into the subtle changes in surrounding neighborhoods.  

What is something most don’t people know about the project?

The engineering expertise that goes into a project with this complexity and scale is enormous. The greatest challenge presented to designers is working to achieve our high goals while fitting everything into a very constrained area. Our team members and consultants have an expectation for engineering excellence and push to prioritize safety and fixing traffic congestion issues. I am not sure many people realize that this includes talented landscape architects who play a vital role in the project, from the environmental process, the design development, permit acquisition and ultimately to see these changes through construction.

101 Freeway Construction Update

N. Padaro Interchange: Concrete recycling continues.

Highway 101 @ Padaro: The Padaro segment is located between North Padaro and South Padaro/Santa Claus Lanes. This project will add a new third freeway lane in each direction and new bridges over Toro and Arroyo Parida creeks. At the South Padaro Lane Undercrossing, the bridge and on- and off-ramps will be replaced. At the North Padaro Lane Interchange, new on- and off-ramp improvements will be built. There will also be three new sound walls built.

Over the next few weeks, to comply with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife requirements related to bird nesting, crews will undertake pre-construction work to clear trees and vegetation so that construction can begin this summer. The majority of work will occur in the median and near the South Padaro/Santa Claus Lane on- and off-ramps.


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