The much anticipated showdown over Caltrans’s plans to widen Highway 101 from Montecito to the Ventura County line did not take place this week as scheduled. The Santa Barbara County Association of Governments (SBCAG) canceled the meeting after Caltrans failed without explanation to deliver a letter outlining its intentions over a host of hotly disputed components to its plan. Governor Jerry Brown has reportedly gotten personally involved in the debate, and this may account for the resounding silence emanating from Caltrans.
One of the chief disputes is over the safety of left-hand off-ramps in Montecito. Caltrans director Malcolm Dougherty has insisted they are unsafe, but a group of prominent and politically connected Montecitans calling themselves Common Sense 101 — who want the existing ramps retained — have unearthed evidence indicating the left-hand exits are no more dangerous than the statewide average and are, in fact, considerably safer.
Dougherty was expected to send a letter to the SBCAG board prior to this week’s meeting insisting on his opposition to the left-hand ramps and asking the board to decide how it wished to proceed on the issue. Until that debate is resolved, the $500 million plans to widen the freeway cannot move forward. Without the widening, Caltrans and its supporters contend rush hour traffic will become unacceptably congested for six hours. But critics contend the widening project will suck up most of the funds now customarily used for pay for road repair and alternative transportation projects.