Santa Barbara’s 101 Highway-widening project has reached its public comment period, again, as its second draft Environmental Impact Report is now available at Caltrans’ website. To start the conversation, Caltrans has scheduled a meeting for Thursday, December 15 on the draft Revised EIR: Chase Palm Park Center, 236 East Cabrillo Boulevard in Santa Barbara, 5:30-7:30 p.m. Copies of the draft REIR are also held at the libraries in Carpinteria, Montecito, and Santa Barbara’s Eastside and Central branches.

The comment period ends January 31, which gives readers less than two months to page through the 151-page report and its appendices, not to mention the eight technical traffic studies linked at the site. The project proposes to add 10.9 miles of carpool lanes between Bailard Avenue in Carpinteria and Sycamore Creek in Santa Barbara (north of Salinas Street), extra lanes that have been hotly debated by a variety of opponents and proponents since its conception back in the late 1990s.

A single high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane added to the north- and southbound sides of the 101 will increase the road to a six-lane freeway, one that commuters know intimately from having viewed each inch while crawling at a snail’s pace during morning and late-afternoon peak-congestion hours. Caltrans states the added lanes are proposed to be for carpooling only part of the time, and would be available during off-peak hours — and on weekends — for all drivers. Without the extra lanes, Caltrans estimates extreme congestion will result along the stretch for 10 hours a day by 2040.

Should the draft EIR successfully jump all hurdles, a Final EIR is expected to come out in spring 2017 and construction to begin a year or two later at a cost of $380 million.

The report also iterates the findings of the “101 in Motion” study, which predicted gridlock 10 hours a day by 2030 if its findings were not implemented. The study, which took two years to complete and was finalized in 2006, advocated among other things that the HOV lane extend between the Ventura County line and Milpas Street, and that new commuter-friendly passenger rail service be added between Camarillo and Goleta. With the first taking a decade to hove into view, the latter remains a black hole.


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