Highway 101: Big Fix, Big Problems

Study Says Widening Project Will Make Rush Hour Traffic Worse

The freeway widening now taking place on Highway 101 at a cost of $140 million will make rush-hour congestion traffic dramatically worse from the Las Positas Road off-ramp to the Milpas Street exit, causing peak-hour motorists to seek refuge by taking side street “shortcuts.” That’s according to a special study commissioned by Caltrans that was conspicuously not included in the draft environmental impact report on the freeway widening project.

The draft report was reviewed by the Santa Barbara City Planning Commission last week, and commissioners were not happy to be informed that this study was not a part of it. In addition, the special analysis detailed how Caltrans would have to change the exit-ramp light-signal times so that the additional traffic volume would not back up onto the freeway itself. But by extending the green-light time at freeway exit intersections, Caltrans will be forced to shorten the green-light times available for crosstown traffic. Translated into plain English, crosstown motorists at congested intersections, like Carrillo, will experience significantly longer waits and more intense congestion. Members of the Planning Commission told Caltrans representatives they wanted to see this information at next week’s meeting to discuss the draft environmental document. No clear explanation was given why the data was not provided.

As a practical matter, the commissioners have little real leverage because voters three years ago approved Measure A, the sales tax surcharge that will fund the $140-million construction project. Compounding matters, there are no obvious mitigations upon which the planning commissioners can insist in exchange for their approval. The freeway widening from Milpas Street to the Ventura County line will, when built, expand the northbound carrying capacity of Highway 101 by 2,000 cars. The problem occurs when that flow of traffic makes its way to Las Positas Road, presently the worst intersection in the county.

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