Construction Coming to Montecito

By Kelly Mahan Herrick   |   August 16, 2022
The San Ysidro roundabout is slated to break ground next spring, following several months of construction on the Olive Mill roundabout, which begins construction in November

At a Montecito Association Land Use and Transportation Committee meeting last week, project reps from the Highway 101 team gave an update on the project as well as timelines for two parallel projects, one of which is slated to begin construction this fall. The meeting was in advance of a highly anticipated hearing next week at the Montecito Planning Commission. 

Project rep Kirsten Ayars reported that the roundabout at Olive Mill and Coast Village roads, which is one of three parallel projects related to the freeway widening, will begin construction in November, after the popular Ghost Village Road trick-or-treating event on Coast Village Road. 

The project, which was appealed and subsequently upheld by the California Coastal Commission by transportation watchdog nonprofit Cars are Basic (CAB), consists of reconfiguring the current six-legged intersection at Olive Mill Road, Coast Village Road, North Jameson Lane, Highway 101 northbound offramp, and Highway 101 southbound onramp to a single-lane roundabout. The project will include pedestrian refuge islands, sidewalks, street lighting, signage, crosswalks, landscaping, and drainage facilities. All improvements are slated to be accommodated within existing Caltrans, City, and County right-of-way. Ayars reports that the roundabout will be complete late next spring or early summer. 

A few months following the beginning of construction of the Olive Mill roundabout, construction will begin on the San Ysidro roundabout in Spring 2023. According to reps, by the time the construction starts on the San Ysidro roundabout, the Olive Mill roundabout will be able to be partially utilized and the southbound onramp to Highway 101 will be open, in order to lessen traffic impacts to the community. Coast Village Road business owners are already voicing their concern – via a highly publicized letter to the City Council last week – over the impact that the Olive Mill roundabout construction will have on traffic and parking. 

The San Ysidro roundabout project includes replacing the current intersection at San Ysidro, North Jameson, and the Highway 101 northbound entrance and exit with an oblong-shaped roundabout, and adding a four-way stop on the other side of the freeway bridge, at San Ysidro and South Jameson Lane (near the Miramar Resort). The single lane roundabout will include pedestrian access on every leg of the intersection, including crosswalks that connect with paved walkways through the medians or refuge areas. The roundabout has enough space for bicycles to traverse the lane, or bicyclists can get off their bikes and walk in the pedestrian/sidewalk areas. The area will be heavily landscaped, per the conditions of the project, and signage is limited to coastal access and safety signs. The Montecito Board of Architectural Review, a Design Working Group, COAST, and the Bicycle Coalition contributed to the design of the project, which was approved by the Montecito Planning Commission (MPC) in June 2020.

Ayars said the project team has committed to staging the projects, which are in close proximity, in a way that is the most efficient for the construction process as well as most beneficial for the community. “We want to balance both needs and we think we’ve done that with the schedule,” she said. “By starting on Olive Mill first, it does have community benefit in terms of traffic movement.” The schedule has also shortened overall construction time by several months. 

Construction is slated to begin on the Montecito section widening of the freeway during Summer 2023. That project will add a third, part-time High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lane through Montecito as well as associated improvements including replacement of the existing roadway pavement with 40-year concrete pavement; removal of 158 oak trees (to be replaced at a 3:1 or 2:1 ratio) and 20 other native trees (to be replaced at a 1:1 ratio); installation of median barriers, guardrails, fencing, retaining walls, and new landscaping; reconstruction of the freeway bridges over Cabrillo Boulevard plus a new southbound on-ramp; and replacement of the bridges over Romero Creek, San Ysidro Creek, and Oak Creek. It is expected to take about two and a half years to complete. Previous plans projected the widening project through the Montecito corridor to require three to four years of construction. “This is a very challenging corridor in terms of building all of these projects. It’s going to be a challenging time for all of us, but we think we have a good plan moving forward,” Ayars said, adding that the construction will start in between Olive Mill Road and San Ysidro Road, in order to utilize the freeway ramps that are already shut down for the roundabout construction at San Ysidro Road. 

It’s anticipated that local streets could see five to 10 minutes of delay during various construction phases. The majority of the work will happen during daytime hours, with night paving slated for several nights. 

In other news related to the freeway project, Caltrans has committed to partnering with County Flood Control and the Army Corps of Engineers on a watershed study to better understand floodwater impacts on the freeway and bridges. This commitment on behalf of Caltrans comes on the heels of June’s Montecito Planning Commission hearing, where commissioners took issue with the fact that the analysis utilized to rule out previously-planned sound walls was gleaned from multiple data sources, some of which were outdated and did not take into effect new resiliency measures including larger (or new) debris basins, creek nets, and enhanced bridges. There was also a discrepancy in which flood standards were used to assess the project: the sound walls were held to a 200-year standard, but other portions of the project are being built to 100-year flood event standards.

Caltrans has also expanded the plant establishment period for the project from three years to five years, in order to ensure the landscaping takes hold. 

The project team will be in front of the MPC next week on August 17. They are expected to answer more questions about flooding, the project timeline, public outreach, staging, and more. The MPC will be tasked with making formal comments to the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission, which is the decision maker on the project. “As a community, we are all going to have to be committed to the fact that we want these improvements and that it’s going to be challenging to build them. But we know that going in,” Ayars said. 

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