Highway 101 at MPC

By Kelly Mahan Herrick   |   August 30, 2022
At a third and final hearing at Montecito Planning Commission last week, the omission of sound walls related to the Highway 101 widening project were a main topic of conversation; a previous rendering shows the sound walls, which have been omitted from the project

In a six-hour meeting last week, the Montecito Planning Commission (MPC) completed their review of the 101 Highway project through Montecito, sending their recommendations and comments to the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission (SBPC). This was the final hearing in a series of three conceptual reviews at MPC. SBPC will consider the project at two hearings scheduled for both November and December of this year. 

The Montecito segment of the project (called 4D) includes widening 1.4 miles of both directions of the freeway, from just before the Romero Creek bridge to Olive Mill Road to accommodate a part-time High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lane. The existing roadway pavement on the freeway will be replaced with 40-year concrete pavement, and the project includes the 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. The project also includes the 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). Safety improvements of the project include increased stopping sight distance, exterior shoulders for disabled and emergency vehicles, new safety barriers, enhanced pavement markings and signs, and safety lighting at ramps. New components of the project will result in reduced maintenance, according to project reps. 

As in previous hearings, Planning Commissioners continued to take great issue with the removal of sound walls from the project, which were removed earlier this year after analysis showed an increase in water rise during a 100-year flood event, using the County’s Recovery Mapping which was adopted in response to the 1/9 Debris Flow. The Recovery Mapping is based on a 100-year rain flow event, with additional conditions that all culverts and bridges are blocked, as well as a burned watershed area, which contributes to a broader flow of water over the area. According to Santa Barbara County Flood Control reps, the freeway has flooded seven times since 1960, and was closed for two weeks following the 1/9 Debris Flow in 2018. Flood Control reps are adamant that they do not support sound walls in Montecito as part of this project, despite new resiliency measures including larger (or new) debris basins, creek nets, and enhanced bridges.

Project reps reported that Caltrans has committed to completing a broader watershed analysis in Montecito to identify issues both inside and outside their State right-of-way. “They’re taking a larger picture into consideration,” said project rep Kirsten Ayars

Commissioners also considered the timing of two parallel projects as part of the highway construction: the Olive Mill roundabout, slated to begin construction in November, as well as the San Ysidro roundabout, slated to begin construction in Spring 2023. Construction on the freeway project is expected to begin in Summer 2023, and will take 2.5 years to complete. Commissioners asked the team to try and avoid repeat on- and off-ramp closures, and to stagger the roundabout and freeway construction in the most efficient way possible. 

Public comment on the project included three speakers: Bruce MacKenzie, who brought up the issue of increased air pollution in nearby neighborhoods, now that the sound walls have been removed from the project; Scott Smigel, who said he was encouraged by the meaty conversation, and has concerns about the mapping used to omit the sound walls; and Sharon Byrne, Executive Director of the Montecito Association, who praised the Commission for their questions and concerns, and asked them to continue to be mindful that many in the community are concerned about the lack of sound walls.

After lengthy deliberations and after questioning why the MPC is not the final decision-making body for the project instead of the County Planning Commission, Commissioners formulated a handful of recommendations to be sent to the Planning Commission. They stated that if the new watershed study that is being undertaken allows for sound walls, Caltrans shall construct sound walls that will accommodate the passage of water, and that Caltrans shall include the sound walls in their funding request. They also stated that the project shall be designed and constructed such that future sound walls can be accommodated (i.e. the footings for sound walls shall be installed). Also related to the sound walls, the Commission asked that if sound walls are not constructed as part of the project, the four-foot wall extending from a retaining wall in front of the Miramar Resort on the south side of the freeway shall be modified or removed to avoid sound reflectivity. 

Other recommendations included asking that the Olive Mill roundabout be operational prior to the construction on the freeway; tree removal be minimized and on-site replanting shall be prioritized; and reclaimed water shall be used for dust mitigation for highway construction and landscaping shall be irrigated with recycled water, where feasible. 

An additional comment was also added, asking that the freeway bridges be constructed to accommodate a 100-year storm event to ensure that the proposed bridges will not be a limiting factor that prevents sound walls from being built in the future. 

In place of the sound walls, a black coated chain link fencing, planted with vines and landscaping, is proposed; Caltrans has agreed to provide landscape maintenance for five years after the project is built.

At the request of MPC chair Ron Pulice, Ayars reported that neighborhood chatter related to removal of the southbound on-ramp at Posilipo is not considered part of this project. While the entrance at Posilipo will be enhanced during construction, neighbor discussions hoping for the entrance’s removal are happening outside of the scope of the project, and any project to consider removal of the entrance would require significant planning and public input. 

For more about this project, visit www.sbroads.com. The project will be in front of the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission in November.  

Beware of Cyclists 

Approximately 800 cyclists participating in the Santa Barbara Triathlon will use portions of the state highway system in Santa Barbara, Montecito, and Carpinteria this Saturday, August 27, between the hours of 7 am and 12:30 pm in the following locations: US 101 Overcrossing at San Ysidro Road, State Route 150 between State Route 192 and Gobernador Canyon Road, and State Route 192 between Sheffield Drive and State Route 150. 

The cyclists will be riding near moving traffic so no road closures are planned. The California Highway Patrol (CHP) will be present to ensure the safety of motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians.

For information on traffic updates on Caltrans projects in Santa Barbara County, residents may call the District 5 Public Affairs Office at (805) 549-3237 or visit the website at: https://dot.ca.gov/caltrans-near-me/district-5.  


You might also be interested in...