Assemblymember Pedro Nava, driving back to Santa Barbara from La Quinta Thursday, expressed gratefulness for living in Santa Barbara so he didn’t have to deal with the type of traffic clogging highways down south.

But with increasing traffic on area roads, and a large contingent of the Santa Barbara workforce traveling Highway 101 from further and further away because of high home prices locally, local leaders are concerned about easing the congestion. This was the reason Nava was down south in the first place-to secure state funding for phase one of the Highway 101 expansion project, which will take place between Milpas and Hot Springs Roads. Construction on the corridor had been set to begin summer of 2009, but then word came that Caltrans and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger were asking the California Transportation Commission (CTC) to hold off on funding projects in anticipation of transportation funding shortfalls.

But with a tight deadline for the Santa Barbara project, Nava and representatives from the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments urged the CTC to give them the money promised to them earlier in the year. “We needed to move forward,” Nava said. A delay of even a month could be a big problem, SBCAG executive director Jim Kemp explained. SBCAG is hoping to squeeze construction in before next year’s rainy season, and any sort of delay in the project could really screw things up. “When we heard that they were thinking about pausing, we panicked a bit,” Kemp said. “This project is a long time coming. It could’ve wreaked havoc on the construction of the project.”

Of the 51 statewide projects facing deferment of more than $240 million, only three were giving the go-ahead by the CTC in a vote Thursday. The commission okayed $53 million to go toward the construction aspect of the 101 expansion project. The money will come from Proposition 1B, which voters passed last November.

The project is one of several in the pipeline to extend to three lanes Highway 101 from Santa Barbara to Ventura, eliminating the bottleneck of traffic thousands of cars face everyday. One other project recently okayed for more than $100 million in funding will expand the highway from Carpinteria to Ventura, but construction won’t begin until 2011. “It’s important to keep the various pieces moving along,” Nava said.


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