So intense is the hostility to installing a new stoplight at the intersection of Cliff Drive and Las Positas Road that the Santa Barbara City Council is itching to spend an additional $600,000 to install a roundabout instead. The question, of course, is where that extra money will come from and at the expense of what other vital road repairs. City Hall has $750,000 in federal transportation dollars to build something to alleviate the rush-hour congestion at that intersection, which would cover the cost of a stoplight but not a roundabout. City Hall risks losing that money, however, if it doesn’t spend it in the next couple of years. Initially, the cost differential between the two choices was $1.1 million, but city traffic engineers figured how to whittle the gap down to $600,000.
Councilmembers were agreed that roundabouts — once reviled in town as something alien and exotic — are faster, quieter, more aesthetically pleasing, generate less congestion and exhaust, safer, and move cars through the intersection more efficiently. By contrast, the level of service there with a stoplight would gradually get worse and attract more collisions. Traffic engineer Derrick Bailey reported that roundabouts on average have 21 percent fewer collisions and 66 percent fewer injury collisions than stoplights do.
A few councilmembers were so opposed to a stoplight that losing the money and building nothing there would be preferable. Still, the additional cost remained a bone of contention for the roundabout. Cathy Murillo expressed concern that much-needed traffic improvements for the Eastside would suffer unfairly if the extra money was spent to make “a good neighborhood better.” Councilmember Dale Francisco said he couldn’t support spending so much extra money when a stoplight addressed 85 percent of the intersection’s needs. And Councilmember Bendy White lamented the sorry state of road repairs elsewhere throughout the city. But bean counters noted that City Hall finished the year with $4 million more than projected and that some of that could possibly be used for the roundabout. The discussion for how to spend that surplus is scheduled for next January. Based on that, the council voted to delay the decision.