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Caltrans district director Tim Gubbins meets with SBCAG to discuss Highway 101 widening and left-hand off-ramps. (May 16, 2013)

Paul Wellman

Caltrans district director Tim Gubbins meets with SBCAG to discuss Highway 101 widening and left-hand off-ramps. (May 16, 2013)


Way More Heat than Light on 101

Freeway Widening Confab Generates Frustration, Clarifies Nothing


Friday, November 15, 2013
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If Friday’s closed-door summit between Caltrans and Common Sense 101 was supposed to clarify the extent to which Montecito’s left-hand freeway off-ramps do or do not contribute to traffic collisions, it was an utter failure. Two of the three elected officials who attended the meeting — Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider and 1st District County Supervisor Salud Carbajal — expressed varying degrees of exasperation, disappointment, and frustration with the lack of communication that took place. Certainly, both said, the meeting did not proceed as they had thought it would.

Given that Caltrans is currently poised to certify the environmental document for the $500 million freeway widening and HOV lane project from Montecito to the Ventura County line, the frustration over how the meeting went could have major ramifications over how — or if — that project proceeds. Carbajal upbraided the posse of Caltrans representatives, telling them that their performance could undermine support among some board members of the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments, the super-government agency on which he and Schneider both sit.

The meeting was held to help resolve a longstanding factual — and political — dispute over the safety of the current left-hand off-ramps in Montecito. Caltrans has insisted that left-hand ramps are inherently less safe because they defy driver expectations and that the number of collisions by the Cabrillo off-ramp in particular is significantly higher than the statewide average. Commonsense 101, a group of politically connected Montecito activists, has insisted that the left-hand ramps are no more dangerous and that the freeway widening could be completed faster and far more cheaply if they were retained.

This summer they met with Caltrans chief Malcolm Dougherty, the head of the State Transportation Agency Brian Kelly, and a representative from Governor Jerry Brown’s office. (Dougherty had vowed earlier in May that he would never consider keeping the left-hand ramps.) Mayor Schneider was at that meeting and all but threatened to withhold issuing the local coastal development permits needed for the project to proceed unless a host of issues — including the left-hand off-ramps — were addressed first. Based on that, Dougherty was instructed to have local district director Tim Gubbins meet with Commonsense 101 activists to come to some agreement as to what the actual facts were regarding the collision and safety issues relating to the Montecito ramps.

Before the meeting, Caltrans had shared a data dump with Commonsense 101, providing detailed accident reports on 17 collisions that had taken place in the area in recent years. Commonsense 101 hired its own traffic engineer to comb through the accident data and concluded that there were absolutely no accidents at all by the Sheffield off-ramp, that there were no northbound accidents by Cabrillo, and that many of the accidents that took place by southbound drivers had nothing to do with the fact that the off-ramp was on the left side of the road rather than the right.

According to Schneider, Carbajal, and Santa Barbara’s Community Development Director Paul Casey — who also attended the meeting — Gubbins showed up with a large team of Caltrans employees, but none of them were prepared to address the specifics of what the Common Sense 101 team had found. They were there, they said, only to listen. Schneider objected that this was not what had been agreed to at the meeting she’d had with Dougherty in Sacramento this summer. Carbajal was more emphatic, expressing serious concern that Caltrans had approached the exchange as a “perfunctory, check off the box” gesture.

That was bad enough, but it reportedly got much worse when a Caltrans engineer stated that the 17 collision reports were not the only basis for Caltrans’s conclusion that the Montecito off-ramps were unsafe. They had other information, he said. This infuriated the representatives of Common Sense 101, who demanded why they hadn’t been given that information as well. Prior to the meeting, they’d sought any and all info relating to the safety profile of these intersections.

The $500 million question is, of course, what’s next? If Gubbins proceeds in the next few weeks to certify the environmental report — as rumors indicate he might — will the City of Santa Barbara file a lawsuit to challenge the adequacy of the report? “That’s a serious possibility,” said Schneider. “That’s something we’ll have to give serious thought to.” That, in turn, would further delay the freeway-widening project. It could be that Caltrans has assumed all along that its environmental report would be challenged — if not by City Hall, then by Common Sense 101. If so, the reasoning holds, why waste time trying to appease critics by making concessions that won’t prevent the challenge anyway?

One of the more curious details of the meeting was the presence of Santa Barbara City Councilmember Dale Francisco. Francisco, a socially conservative Republican with serious preservationist chops, said nothing while there, but he’s just formed a committee to explore running for Congress in 2014. Common Sense 101 activists had not been shy about spending money in the recent City Council race and generously backed Lesley Wiscomb, who was strongly backed by Francisco. Wiscomb lost. The campaign consultant hired by Common Sense 101 is Jeremy Lindaman, who has been a longtime advisor to Schneider and to Councilmember Bendy White. Also extremely interested in running for Congress is Salud Carbajal — a Democrat — though not as long as incumbent Lois Capps is running.

Tim Gubbins of Caltrans was not available for comment by deadline; hence the Caltrans perspective on how the meeting transpired is utterly absent from this post.

Comments

Independent Discussion Guidelines

It seems that feet are planted in sand on both sides and that we are headed for a protracted legal battle on this one. Why the inert Caltrans planning process is so intent on fixing something that ain't broke is beyond me. Common Sense 101 says their plan will save $60 million dollars. In a time of extreme public money constraints , why doesn't $60.000.000 savings resonate with all concerned parties? It is my understanding that if this project is approved the way Caltrans is proposing , that road maintenance /improvement funds will be dried up ( spent) for decades. Pile that problem on top of our existing deferred maintenance crisis and you can see we have some big problems ahead. $60 million saved sounds pretty good to me.

geeber (anonymous profile)
November 15, 2013 at 10:57 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Caltrans is a bureaucratic bully that is not accustomed to getting push-back. The fact that this schoolyard tussle is happening in the public square with lots of people watching is not going to facilitate the compromise necessary to settle this matter without a fight.

Eckermann (anonymous profile)
November 16, 2013 at 8:09 a.m. (Suggest removal)

As much as I hate a bully, I have to agree with Caltrans general plan to facilitate the area's insatiable need for a high speed tourist delivery system.

I was once a work here reside there member of this community. Those left side ramps posed unnecessary accidents slash heart attacks that led to long traffic delays and extended ETAs for first responders. This has a costly negative impact on their ability to be elsewhere if needed. (Common Sense!)

touristunfriendly (anonymous profile)
November 16, 2013 at 10:47 a.m. (Suggest removal)

try listening to touristunfriendly, Eckermann & those who don't get it! I do drive this every day 5x per week, and we absolutely need to get rid of the left-hand ramps, c'mon! Salud and Helene want some swag from MONTECITO 101's bounty so they make obeisance before them, at the last minute trying to change things. Upcoming Congressional aspirations, termed out, thinking more of their futures than what's best for SB. Plenty of corrupt Demos to balance the Tea Party crazies, eh?
BEST IDEA: do nothing about the Fwy, maybe just close Sheffield south leftside onramp (leaving only 1 at Hot Springs), and we could all agree on this. Oblige UCSB & other large employers to stagger work hours to eliminate this congestion and pollution, this is doable with the political willpower. Nick W noted this in an earlier column.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
November 16, 2013 at 2 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Schneider is the one being a "bully" in this situation. The decision to make US 101 (not Santa Barbara 101 or Montecito 101) three lanes from Ventura to Goleta was made some time ago by SBCAG. Helene and Salud as memebrs of the SBCAG Board of Directors supported that decision. The only way to make three lanes work safely is to eliminate the left hand off ramps. This issue has been studied to death. Caltrans has had many public hearings on the plans over hte last few years. Caltrans collected hundreds of letters from local citizens and over 90% were in favor of plan F modified.
So what's the problem? The jackasses at Common Sense 101 hired Mayor Schneider complete with cans of useless whupass to be their attack dog on their quixotic quest to keep the old fashioned left hand offramps.
At the last moment in the planning process, our mayor raises the some smelly red herring about the need for accident date for those beloved left hand off ramps as if past statistics would predict future accident rates on a heavily modified freeway. That is rather like driving while looking in the rearview mirror. Sure there are few accidents at the currentleft hand Hot Springs ramps because they are lightly traveled, the freeway is only two lanes, and traffic is usually slow there. When a new lane is added the speed in that new HOV fast lane will hopefully be much higher than it is now. With three lanes then some people wouls have to merge thru two lanes to get off the freeway at Hot Springs / Cabrillo. Any fool would tell you that is a recipe for disaster. Of course we are dealing with some very rich fools here who are bent on getting their way no mater the cost. This accident data stunt is only a stalling tactic, I am not surprised that Caltrans is tired of producing useless date for the pleasure of Jack and his cabal reactionaries.
Common sense 101 has never published a complete plan to improve the freeway so their claim of being able to save 50 million over the Caltrans plan is complete b.s..
Schneider and C.S.101 can play the lawsiut car all they want. This is yet another meaningless stunt.

Herschel_Greenspan (anonymous profile)
November 16, 2013 at 5:20 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Well Greenspan, either the data (as in scientifically gathered and analyzed facts) supports the danger of left hand off ramps or not. It has nothing to do with what we think (or what "any fool" thinks). It is all about the science. I for one have never experienced a problem driving past those off ramps and I do so at least once a week and have done so for over 40 years. Yet my anecdotal evidence is not science. If Caltrans has the science, let them share it. As far as Carbajal and Schneider's pandering to voters: I like politicians who pander to voters. That tells me that they are not dictators. They listen to the people who voted them into office. That is not a bad thing. If we wanted an all-knowing leader who patted us on the head and said, "there, there," we would have kings and queens, which we don't want. This is not a meaningless stunt. There are tens of millions of dollars and environmental and aesthetic effects at stake. Caltrans needs to either support their case with science or fold their cards and get on with the project.

Eckermann (anonymous profile)
November 16, 2013 at 8:04 p.m. (Suggest removal)

What Greenspan fails to note is that building this section of freeway with Caltrans' current design will effectively dry up road improvement funds for Santa Barbara County for decades. Deferred maintenance is already at or near crisis level with huge backlogs of road / transportation infrastructure in need of work. Why does the opportunity to save $50-60 million not resonate with these people ?

geeber (anonymous profile)
November 16, 2013 at 9:30 p.m. (Suggest removal)

When you change a freeway design from two lanes to three (HOV) lanes you cannot assume that accident statistics from the old design will have relevance to the FUTURE accident statistics. Successful engineering of anything calls for predicting the performance of the design. A HOV lane is designed to be a fast lane like all left hand lanes on our freeways. The middle lane is where slower cars and trucks drive. The right lane is where the slowest cars and trucks are. Most drivers are to slowing down and merging to the right when exiting a freeway. With a three lane 101 configuration a driver that was in the middle or right lane would have to accelerate and merge left and then slow down to exit. Based on ANY modern highway flow models this would cause a much higher accident rate. Let me paint you a picture. C.S. 101 gets its way and the left hand ramps are preserved on the new three lane freeway. A family from LA is driving up 101 to attend a graduation at Westmont. Mom's is driving and she is comfortable driving in the right hand lane. As she approaches the Hot Springs off ramp she learns that it is a left hand off ramp. She panics as she has to run a middle lane gauntlet of semi trucks and faster cars. She makes it behind a big rig and now she as ti further accelerate to get into the fast lane. She miscalculated the speed of an oncoming car and crashes. The angle of the impact pushes the car back into the middle lane where it it hit by a truck. All of the occupants of the Car are killed. That would be the type of horrific accident that would likely happen with a three lane 101 with a left hand off ramp on the northbound 101 at the Hot springs / Cabrillo. I suppose that at resulting civil actions Caltrans can use the defense that some people were cool with the old off ramps and that Jack Overall said it was a good design because the accident data from the old design showed a low accident rate.

Herschel_Greenspan (anonymous profile)
November 16, 2013 at 10:05 p.m. (Suggest removal)

There is no plan to save $50 million. Common Sense has no plan expect for blowing smoke up your a$$.

Herschel_Greenspan (anonymous profile)
November 16, 2013 at 10:09 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Naw , Greenspan , pretty sure you are wrong. First thing you got wrong is that they lady in your story will get off at Olive Mill , not Hot Springs . Regarding the savings issue - you seem to belong to the " if it ain't broke , let's fix it" club. Not tearing existing stuff down to build new stuff saves money. Common Sense has career road builders , engineers and architects that have all studied the proposals and say there are huge savings to be realized . What SBCAG doesn't tell you is that road funds will be exhausted for decades by this project in its current form . We best be looking for ways to save . Have you not witnessed Caltrans huge portfolio of design blunders that have led to bad designs at enormous public expense. I have no horse in the race but have traveled those roads safely for decades and I know for sure Caltrans is very capable of screwing it all up.

geeber (anonymous profile)
November 17, 2013 at 4:20 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Geeber: You're not addressing Greenspan's point about the dangers of lane switching. I can speak through experience. When I come to work I take the 101 southbound and I turn off at the exit south of Turnpike. Just getting into the RIGHT lane often involves great precision due to the incredible number of brainless drivers who speed and follow too close, (paradoxically, it gets worse as the traffic increases) so I can easily imagine the scenario H_G presents.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
November 17, 2013 at 6:51 a.m. (Suggest removal)

The Montecito Plan saves nothing. If the dangerous left-lanes were retained, they would have to be rebuilt and reconfigured. The cost would be similar to the CT alternative. Worse, the Montecito plan is three-legged; it has no Cabrillo southbound ramp, leaving Coast Village Road endlessly congested. The Montecito Plan also reduces the HOV lanes by 40%--a feature demanded by the voters when they approved Measure A project funding. Montecito has delayed the project for a year, meeting with Caltrans over 21 times with frivolous go-nowhere ideas. Now Montecito plan to sue, causing more delays. No wonder Caltrans refuses to respect these obstructionists and shame on the pols for catering to the charade!

Brunswick (anonymous profile)
November 17, 2013 at 7:34 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Umm the average resident who was here 20+ years ago when Montecito elitists destroyed the previous 101-widening under Measure D r dismayed at watching a whole new group of monied Montecitans derail the voter-supported 101 HOV lane - and now it seems the very elected officials who heartily supported the "lane and train" and manipulated voters into supporting Measure A r "exiting" the plan mid-CEQA in a private backroom ploy (using the media as a prop). Good luck folks ever getting another local tax measure passed. Build the friggin (uninterrupted) HOV lane already! Those who romanticize the left-hand exits need to pool their money and write a nostalgic coffee-table book singing their praises and memorializing for future generations

whosecityisthis2012 (anonymous profile)
November 17, 2013 at 7:36 a.m. (Suggest removal)

As Eckermann said, what are the facts? Please tell us what are the accident rates at _that_ offramp and how do they compare with statewide accidents on other offramps, other left hand lane exits and other right hand lane exits? CalTrans's silence on this suggests that they don't have the numbers to backup their argument and are just caught in not wanting to backdown.

I've driven it also for many years, usually exiting at that exit, and not only have not had an accident, I have not seen one there. But that's as significant as the anti's maintaining it is unsafe.

(Hershel Greenspan: a request: please paragraph - a solid block of type is not as easily readable, especially as it continues....)

at_large (anonymous profile)
November 17, 2013 at 8:30 a.m. (Suggest removal)

The facts are that the historical accident data shows a low accident rate. That has nothing to do with the future accident rate after adding a new lane. Caltrans has provided all of the data that the mayor requested. Caltrans' mission is to design and build roads that are safe and efficient. Left hand off ramps with a three lane design would be unsafe and inefficient. Common Sense and all available science confirms this.

Herschel_Greenspan (anonymous profile)
November 17, 2013 at 9:28 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Since most (all?) HOV lanes are on the inside or left lanes, how are the continued use of left hand exits compatible with HOV lanes? Are non-HOV driver expected to cross though the HOV lanes to use the exit? If the HOV lanes are not built, does that take away a segment of the funding? No funding, no building? Maybe that is CS Montecito's goal.

Tigershark (anonymous profile)
November 17, 2013 at 9:45 a.m. (Suggest removal)

@tigershark: they are not compatible with HOV lanes; now, when driving to work EVERY DAY on this stretch, nearing Hot Springs going south, a few dizzy local drivers, well-heeled or elderly or both [likely from Montecito 101], cruising in the rightmost lane belatedlly realize they need to get off at Hot Springs Rd. They zoom left across two lanes, I brake & let 'em pass through. Future: the HOV lane will be much more crowded and at higher speeds, the same Montecito 101 doofusses want to get over to Hot Springs Rd and again cross lanes...but there will be more traffic in HOV and moving faster... All the out-of-town drivers will be surprised by the bizarre and retro leftside off ramp -- it really makes zero sense to fight the elimination of left-side ramps!
Note: let's avoid all this by obliging UCSB and other companies to stagger their employees working hours. Save $500,000,000 and many years of congestion... that is a compromise that works. Tell Caltrans to get out!

DrDan (anonymous profile)
November 17, 2013 at 12:39 p.m. (Suggest removal)

This brouhaha demonstrates three things:
1. the power of a strong central government to do exactly as it wants,
2. the unwillingness of a strong central government to provide factual data and research to support its position,
3. the willingness of the Montecito objectionista and its funded political cronies to continue the inconvenience to many caused by the 101 bottleneck.

DrDan's suggestion that "UCSB and other companies..stagger their employees working hours is a good one", but I'd add government employees to that list.

JohnLocke (anonymous profile)
November 17, 2013 at 1:19 p.m. (Suggest removal)

When the warring classes decide they want a solution rather than a fight, they might hire John Jostes who will get the job done.

drdan93109 (anonymous profile)
November 17, 2013 at 7:50 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Wow DD, sometimes I wonder if you and I are even talking about the same stretch of freeway . Rather than your observations of unsafe slow to fast lane changes , I have on numerous occasions witnessed just the opposite. I can't tell you how many times I have seen clueless and inconsiderate buttheads radically swerve across two or three lanes of traffic , fast to slow , to barely make the slow lane offramp, cutting people off in the process.. Most often this stupid maneuver is done with no turn signal activated. Now THAT is dangerous.
Sorry to disagree with you pro Caltrans guys so much , but I have a deep mistrust of their planning process that goes way back to their needless destruction of Stanley's. Of course that may be a piece of local history lost on some of you newcomers.

geeber (anonymous profile)
November 17, 2013 at 9:18 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I say, build it and watch the carnage....

dou4now (anonymous profile)
November 18, 2013 at 5:28 a.m. (Suggest removal)

you mean rush RIGHTWARDS to swerve over to the Olive Mill Rd rightside offramp [to Biltmore]? -- sure, I've witnessed that, too, and a [very few] crazies jamming right just before the Hot Springs left ramp to fly off at the stupid Train Bridge right offramp... close that one now, too!
I like, "If they build it [either way!], watch the carnage" from dou4...
SERIOUSLY, why isn't there loud grassroots, enviro, green coalition support for CHANGING WORK SCHEDULES and thus avoiding all this carnage, the money spent fending off Montecito 101, the ugly spectacles of Salud and Helene pandering to the Mont. 101 money-bags' potential swag for their own future political careers???
Talk about worshiping the hierarchy, hey, go get dayjobs, OK? I may be a leftie, but there are times I detest politicians as much as any.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
November 18, 2013 at 6:16 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I too like "build it and watch the carnage".

billclausen (anonymous profile)
November 18, 2013 at 6:36 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Look at it this way, lots of people will get paid for the project, but I would NEVER suggest there were any financial motives in any of this.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
November 18, 2013 at 6:38 a.m. (Suggest removal)

It is extremely pitiful to watch Schneider, Carbajal and Francisco doing whatever it takes to line up Montecito donors for their future election plans!

As far as I can tell, the cost savings and environmental benefits of the Montecito plan are just smoke and mirrors hidden behind vague sketches.

Regardless of how the 101 widening through Montecito proceeds, the loss of vegetation will be enormous -with or without left ramps. Our only hope is an intense re-vegetation program to bring back some of what will be inevitably lost. This, and the replacement of the Cabrillo RR bridge is what Schneider, Carbajal and Francisco should be pushing for.

And why is Jeremy Lindaman calling the shots? Who elected him?

neighbor (anonymous profile)
November 18, 2013 at 9:56 a.m. (Suggest removal)

@neighbor agree that "It is extremely pitiful to watch Schneider, Carbajal and Francisco doing whatever it takes to line up Montecito donors" for their own future careers in politics!!
Why IS Jeremy Lindaman calling the shots?! How about an Indy investigative piece on his overlapping roles in all this? Hey Jeremy, can you summon up the testosterone to get Helene to bring back her Sept. 2012 4-point reform program??!! It was your idea: who intimidated you and the madam Mayor into backing off these promising reforms?? Who are you?

DrDan (anonymous profile)
November 18, 2013 at 10:40 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Why do a bunch of Montecito NIMBYs get to decide the ramp configuration that the rest of us get to drive?

Helene? Salud? Do the right thing for the 99% - kill the left hand ramps.

Otherwise, just close all of the on and off ramps between Milpas and Summerland and be done with it!

fredb93117 (anonymous profile)
November 19, 2013 at 6:59 a.m. (Suggest removal)

there is some confusion here. we are referring to the local freeway 101. the politicians are referring to the most direct route from SB to a comfy leather chair in Sacramento....hence the monumental cluster&%#! that passes for dialogue.

if anybody has used the HOV lanes on the 405, you know that lane is for folks who like to drive as fast as possible past stopped traffic....and i mean fasttttt.

a left hand exit ramp from a HOV lane would make for spectacular prangs. I'm talking high speed with somersaults, etc...the irony is the accidents would end up shutting down the freeways more often.

lawdy (anonymous profile)
November 19, 2013 at 10:22 a.m. (Suggest removal)

agree lawdy, although some of them are also looking for a direct route to Washington, DC, via Sacramento. It's distressingly ugly to watch Helene and Salud turn ridiculous somersaults to kiss up to Montecito 101 moneybags thinking of future political positions for themselves. Helene is termed out in 4 years. And the seeping corruption among the Demos has to do with too much power and too little competition. When Lois retires after one more term, we can see Carbajal/Schneider/Jackson splitting the lib-dem vote allowing Maldonado in...ahh, ambition corrupts, total ambition corrupts absolutely. For me, the litmus is this left-lane thing. We could also see this when Alley, who did quite well, got pushed out by official Demo support for the "old boy network pol" Landecker... Landecker, Carbajal, Hannah-Beth, Schneider, White...not quite a cabal but they hang together... time for change. Don't think Larrimore-Hall gets it, either.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
November 19, 2013 at 10:49 a.m. (Suggest removal)

aye DrDan...Washington indeed.

lawdy (anonymous profile)
November 19, 2013 at 11:09 a.m. (Suggest removal)

The City has a moratorium on development within 250' of 101, because of pollution concerns. The 250' value was justified by a 2007 Air Quality study; that study contains a simple numerical error. The correct value should have been just under 1000'. Now the City wants to exacerbate the pollution by approving the widening of 101. No need to worry about dying from a left-turn induced accident; lung cancer is more probable.

Steve_Johnson (anonymous profile)
November 19, 2013 at 3:02 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Here too??

Complaining about air pollution in Santa Barbara is like complaining about the cold in Hawaii.

That doesn't mean we should forget about our impact on the environment, but there is no reason to avoid building close to the freeway except for traffic noise.

loonpt (anonymous profile)
November 19, 2013 at 4:49 p.m. (Suggest removal)

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