The Never-Ending 101 Freeway–Widening Project

Time Passes, Costs Increase, and Still No Third Lane

On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy proposed before a joint session of Congress to commit the Unites States to put a man on the moon. On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first human being to walk on the moon. It only took the U.S. eight years, one month, and 25 days to accomplish that great feat. However, the widening of the 101 freeway from two lanes to three has been in construction since June 2008, which is about seven years and nine months ago. Of course, that’s not including the planning of the project, which started all the way back in June 1997. All of that for the low, low price of a half billion dollars.

So we have an overpriced, multi-year, state-owned project with the support of many politicians. What could possibly be wrong with this scenario?

When the project first reached public attention, it was well received. There was an obvious problem with an obvious solution. The freeway goes from three lanes to two, causing a bottleneck effect. So why not just make the freeway three lanes from Santa Barbara to Ventura? When first proposed, the entire project was supposed to take two and a half years to complete. But then along came the politicians, and they couldn’t let a good crisis go to waste.

The huge price tag is just one part of it. Measure A was passed to increase tax revenues from the people to the cost of $140 million, along with state and gas taxes to pay for the rest of the project. The group Common Sense 101 believes that the project chosen was more than $60 million overinflated from their original estimates. The extra cost is associated with the contractor price tag and the unnecessary freeway off-ramps to nowhere.

So why did we chose the most expensive of the proposed plans? Well, politicians know best, of course.

When first proposed, many of our local politicians were torn on which proposed plan to support. However, it was Supervisor Salud Carbajal who made the motion to give this huge project to Caltrans. In return, Carbajal has received campaign contributions from the unions he has supported in the past. It’s the classic Democrat two-step, fund union projects and receive union political contributions.

Let’s not leave Mayor Helene Schneider out of this hit job. If we all remember, she was against her political rival’s plan to widen the freeway. Her political consultant Jeremy Lindaman was moonlighting as a consultant for a separate freeway plan. However, Schneider eventually yielded when the expansion of the Union Pacific Bridge was authorized to be a part of the project. This bridge was an added cost of about $15 million. Mayor Schneider had to bring home the bacon and have something to show her constituents.

The entire project may end up being scrapped by Sacramento. Falling gas prices has meant less gas tax revenue funds collected by the state. The project is on the Legislature’s chopping block and may end up being left half completed. However, our taxes will continue to be collected for years to come.

After all the time, money, and labor, what do we have to show for all of this? The project is not scheduled to be completed until sometime in 2017, if we’re lucky. Traffic continues to bottleneck in the same place it always has here in Santa Barbara. The taxpayers will be paying for this project for years to come. The audacious Democrat politicians who gave us this boondoggle are running for Congress to replace Lois Capps.

Let’s start holding our politicians responsible. Most of the politicians who were involved with this project are currently running for different seats in our area. Why not send them an email about your concerns? Or perhaps stop by their next campaign event and ask them about this project? Or you could do nothing and continue to enjoy your daily rush hour and your higher taxes.

Bobby Mercado is president of the Santa Barbara County Young Republicans.

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