MBAR Hears from 101 Team

By Kelly Mahan Herrick   |   March 8, 2022
A rendering of the freeway widening from North Jameson looking northbound towards Olive Mill Road. A lack of landscaping in this area has some members of MBAR concerned.

Members of the Highway 101 widening team through Montecito were in front of the Montecito Board of Architectural Review last week for the second time, reviewing aesthetic features of the project related to fencing, landscaping, and lighting. The project, which will widen the freeway to three lanes in each direction between Sycamore Creek in the City of Santa Barbara up to Romero Creek in Montecito, includes the reconstruction of the freeway bridges over Cabrillo Boulevard plus a new southbound on-ramp, replaces bridges at Montecito, San Ysidro, Oak, and Romero creeks, and includes some operational and safety improvements on the highway and ramps throughout the Montecito corridor. Because the previously-proposed sound walls have been removed from the scope of the project, the project team shared new design slides with MBAR members. 

The last time MBAR saw the project was back in September 2021, when the team mainly focused on the interchanges at San Ysidro and Olive Mill, as well as landscaping. As we reported in February, the four proposed sound walls – three on the north side of the freeway between Olive Mill and the Romero Creek bridge, and one on the south side between Olive Mill and San Ysidro roads – have been removed from the project after County Flood Control required project reps to analyze if the sound walls would create a rise in flood waters, based on Recovery Mapping that was adopted in 2018 in response to the 1/9 Debris Flow. At a community meeting in February, Flood Control Engineering Manager Jon Frye said his department does not believe sound walls in the Montecito area would be appropriate, because of the way flood waters flow onto the freeway during significant rain events. During the 1/9 Debris Flow, it’s estimated that 8-10 feet of water made its way onto the freeway, mostly focused between Olive Mill and San Ysidro roads. The analysis showed that flood waters would increase if the sound walls were present. 

With MBAR members tasked at providing feedback on the aesthetics of the project, and not necessarily the impact an increase of sound would have on the neighboring community, several members said the design of the freeway expansion was enhanced with the removal of the sound walls. The freeway will be surrounded by a black vinyl-clad chain link fence in most areas, with narrow roadway shrubs at the base and vines covering the fencing. In most areas of the northbound side, a short retaining wall built near the chain link fence will allow for narrow planters adjacent to the freeway, which will be planted by shrubs and trees where appropriate. On the southbound side of the freeway in front of the Rosewood Miramar, there is a proposed barrier and higher retaining wall, with the area in between filled with shrubs and ivy. Other plantings include skyline, enhancement, and infill plantings, most of which are drought tolerant. 

With many members of the community lamenting about the lack of sound walls ever since the plans changed in February, it was surprising that there were no members of the public wishing to speak on the item at last week’s MBAR meeting. There was one letter from a Montecito resident, who called the decision to remove the sound walls from the project a “bait and switch” by Caltrans. “Caltrans initially sold the community on the 101 Project with beautiful drawings that included the promise of concrete walls and intricate landscaping. We all bought in to the artwork and promises they set forth for a strong environmental softening of the project. It looked so good the community did not object,” read the letter. “Now, they claim the ‘sound’ walls cannot get federal funding and, therefore, they need to install chain link fencing… chain link? Really? The community that has sacrificed so much in the name of preservation is going to give it all up to chain link?,” it continued. 

Project spokesperson Kirsten Ayars reminded the Board that the sound walls were not required as a sound mitigation measure as part of the project’s Environmental Impact Report. Noise in the area is expected to increase up to three decibels, with an average dishwasher creating 80 decibels, according to Ayars. “It’s not at a level that will require mitigation. That being said, we want to do everything we can to make it as nice a freeway as possible,” Ayars remarked. Other sound attenuating measures included a continually reinforced concrete pavement surface which has a longer lifespan than typical asphalt, offering a reduction in noise over the length of its lifespan. The pavement is jointed differently, under the lane lines rather than horizontally, which helps mitigate sound as tires make contact with the pavement. 

MBAR comments about the fences and landscaping were mostly positive, save for one slide showing a vantage from the frontage road, North Jameson, northbound to Olive Mill, in which there is no room for plantings on either side of the freeway fencing. Sitting for her first MBAR meeting after being newly appointed to the board, Alida Aldrich said the rendering “hurts the soul.” She went on to say: “We in this community are used to almost living in a forest. This is hard on us.” Other MBAR members concurred with her sentiments, and asked project reps to revisit the area and come up with a plan that addresses the lack of landscaping.  

It is expected that the project will be back in front of MBAR in March, reviewing corridor-wide elements including median barriers, guardrails, contrast surface treatments, and overhead signage. Due to the addition of another lane of the freeway, the median area through Montecito will get smaller, which will impact the landscaping and mature trees in the median. The freeway bridges will feature a muted façade, arches, and timber railing on the barriers, to add to the design aesthetics; the design also includes natural materials such as cobblestones, Santa Barbara sandstone, and native plantings.

The project will also be in front of Montecito Planning Commission later in the spring, where it’s expected that members of the public will voice their concern over the removal of the sound walls. 

For more information about the freeway widening project, contact the project team at (805) 845-5112 or or visit the project website at


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