Sound Wall Concerns

By Kelly Mahan Herrick   |   March 29, 2022

At last week’s Montecito Planning Commission hearing, the Commission was briefed on the Highway 101 Widening Project, which will eventually be in front of the Commission for conceptual review once the project application is deemed complete. 

Project planner Nicole Lieu explained to the Commission that the final design of the project is still in flux and subject to change, and once that process is complete, it will be brought to the MPC for extensive review as well as ample time for both public comment and comments from the Commission. Several members of the Commission voiced concern over the recent announcement that proposed sound walls have been removed from the project due to flooding concerns. “Our neighborhood, our residents are very concerned about this,” said Commissioner Bob Kupiec. “There are people that are going to be impacted by the widening, and there was an understanding of the kinds of mitigation measures that were going to be put in place. And now we’re understanding that it’s under consideration that those measures are going to be eliminated. Something has to be brought to the community that’s acceptable. Just saying that we’re going to get a chain link fence and some hedges ain’t enough. I’m concerned.”

The 1.4-mile Montecito portion of the project will eventually widen the freeway to three lanes in each direction between Sycamore Creek in the city of Santa Barbara up to Romero Creek in Montecito (west of Sheffield Drive). Bridges will be replaced at Montecito, San Ysidro, Oak, and Romero creeks, and the project will integrate some operational and safety improvements on the highway and ramps. One of the most discussed portions of the project includes the reconstruction of the Hot Springs/Cabrillo Blvd interchange, which includes a roundabout and the replacement of the left side ramps with right side ramps. The interchange will also bring back the southbound onramp at Cabrillo Blvd, which was removed during the Milpas to Hot Springs portion of the project several years ago. Four sound walls that were part of the proposal were removed earlier this year, when it was determined that they would create a rise in flood waters. The flood risk was analyzed using Recovery Mapping that was adopted by the County in response to the 1/9 Debris Flow. In place of the sound walls will be a black chain link fence screened by shrubbery and hedges. 

“I’m frustrated that knowing after all this time, we were promised sound walls, and now we’re not,” said MPC Chair Ron Pulice. “It feels like a bait and switch for the community,” added Montecito Association Executive Director Sharon Byrne, who spoke during public comment. “The community is extremely concerned about this.” 

Once Caltrans’ application for the project is deemed complete, the proposal will be seen by MPC for conceptual level review and for comments. The deciding body on this project is the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission, which will take into consideration the MPC’s comments and concerns. 


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