Highway 101 Widening Begins Final Phase in Carpinteria

Third Lane of Controversial Project Heads North to Santa Barbara

Morning traffic on the 101 freeway in Santa Barbara | Credit: Paul Wellman

Just when Carpinteria residents might have thought all the construction was over, the Highway 101 project is revving up to add a long-awaited and controversial third lane.

For the past four years, the highway project has added larger overpasses, revamped highway ramps, and upgraded stream crossings to accommodate the anticipated lane, shield neighborhoods from noise, and maintain bike paths in Carpinteria. The upcoming phase adds a carpool lane, moving a three-lane 101 Highway to the northwest incrementally. The three lanes now begin just below Santa Barbara County’s southern-most city, creating a daily traffic jam for commuters — when the highway’s not flooded or residents aren’t on a shelter-in-place order.

Something of an epithet in some Santa Barbara circles, the third lane has been in the planning stages since the 1990s, held up repeatedly by cries for improved rail transport, a monorail, and simply no increase of traffic through lower Santa Barbara County. The last lawsuit — for a lack of review of the decidedly negative impacts on the City of Santa Barbara’s streets from increased traffic and short-cuts during construction — was defeated in 2018.

In the intervening 30 years, said Kirsten Ayars, spokesperson for the project, minds have changed as 101 traffic began to brake to a standstill at regular intervals. “Now when we walk into a meeting,” she said, “people are asking to get it done.”

Phase 4, at a current price tag of $700 million, is to start April 5, depending on rain. Its four sub-phases — which include sound walls, sidewalks, bike lanes, and ramp and bridge work — will stretch nearly 11 miles from Carpinteria to Santa Barbara. First up is Carpinteria, followed by Summerland, then Padaro segments. The finish line is Sycamore Creek in Montecito by 2027. That final segment has yet to be fully funded, designed, or permitted, “but it’s looking pretty good,” said Ayars. “We have to close in the gap!”

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