In November 1989, 23 years ago, the voters passed Measure D to provide road improvements in Santa Barbara County with a 0.5 percent increase in the sales tax. The number one reason for its passing was to widen the 101 from Santa Barbara to the Ventura county line to six lanes to reduce traffic congestion. For this portion of the project $15 million was budgeted.
Caltrans opened public hearings from Santa Barbara to Carpinteria. The state transportation agency got nothing but opposition to the planned efforts from the local residents. Caltrans and the locals were treating this stretch of road as their residential street or country lane. Caltrans totally mismanaged the event and ignored the most important part of the plan, and that is that the 101 is a national highway, not a country lane, and is used and owned by the millions of Californians and Americans who must use it every day. While the locals should have “some say” in the project, they should never be allowed to have the final decision. However, Caltrans did just that, and the widening project was cancelled due to its colossal mismanagement of the process.
Now here we are 23 years later (with déjà vu all over again) with the high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) widening project as a part of Measure A, which was passed with the number one priority of widening the 101, and Caltrans is again mismanaging the process by letting the locals define the issues and again objecting to all of the five proposals.
Again Caltrans is not placing the emphasis on the national aspect of the 101 national highway. Again Caltrans is mismanaging the program. They again are only considering the local opinion and not the millions of travelers and commuters who must use the 101 daily. They are left out by Caltrans.
These same locals are the very self-serving people who killed the remodeling of the Miramar Hotel, resulting in what is today a civic wasteland. To repair that damage, they want to waive TOT (transient occupancy tax) payments for 10 years. Vision and anything of quality is lacking with this group in Montecito.
Caltrans is proposing to spend $385 million on a 10-mile stretch of highway, or over 10 times what they spent on a similar stretch of the 101 at Santa Maria where the cost was $30 million for a 10-mile stretch.
To placate the selfish and self-serving locals in Montecito, Caltrans is “gilding the lily” with plantings and sound walls. Montecito deserves nothing better than Santa Maria, Goleta, Ventura, or Calabasas do. That is, a six-lane freeway with a concrete divider between them. Sound walls make the freeway look like a prison. Plantings are costly to maintain.
Caltrans must reform its plans for this HOV project and place the emphasis on the needs of the millions of Americans who use this national highway and reduce cost by taking the simplest, most direct approach to the engineering possible. Taxpayers cannot afford such grandiose plans just for the stuffy people in Montecito.
In the past 20 years, the Chinese have built an 1,800-mile high-speed rail system across China and connected Mongolia, Russia, and Tibet with China by rail and road. They have also helped build the East Bay Oakland Bay Bridge.
So we are still waiting for Caltrans to widen 10 miles of the 101. Why don’t we hire China to do the job?
Justin Ruhge has lived on the Central Coast for 34 years where he has been a conservative activist and writes the blog Concerned Taxpayers. He is retired from the aerospace business as a program manager and research engineer.