Olive Mill Roundabout in Montecito Moves Closer to Construction

Santa Barbara County Supervisors Reject Cars Are Basic’s Environmental Appeal

Artist rendering of Olive Mill Road roundabout | Credit: Courtesy City of Santa Barbara

The much-anticipated Olive Mill Road roundabout moved closer to becoming a reality this Tuesday as the county supervisors voted unanimously to reject an environmental appeal of the project filed by Cars Are Basic, a small but vocal organization that’s long cast a critical eye on efforts to further expand access to the streets for pedestrians and cyclists. Last month, Santa Barbara City Council unanimously rejected a similar appeal filed by the group. 

The roundabout was proposed to mitigate the anticipated increase in congestion at that site when the 101 freeway-widening project is completed. Without the roundabout, the level of service at that intersection is expected to go from its current Level C, marked by minimal delays, to Level F — characterized by “extreme congestion and considerable delays.” 

In this case, Tom Becker of Cars Are Basic argued that the environmental impact report relied upon by the Montecito Planning Commission in approving the proposed roundabout at Olive Mill Road, now a tangled rats’ nest of a six-street intersection, this September failed to adequately account for the increase in vehicle miles traveled (VMT) that will be caused by the freeway widening. Becker noted that traffic engineers understand that the addition of a new lane will bring with it additional drivers, driving additional miles. 

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County transportation planners countered that the roundabout is totally separate from the freeway widening and insisted that it, by itself, will not generate any additional VMT. These same planners noted that the roundabout will reduce VMT because it will include amenities that make it safer for bicycle and pedestrian traffic. By encouraging these alternatives, the environmental analysis noted, the roundabout will help reduce VMT. 

Becker complained that none of the county traffic planners ever spoke with him about his alternative proposal, which he said would require no construction and cost no money. He threatened to take his case to the California Coastal Commission, which has the final say over the proposal’s fate. 

Roger Rittner, a resident on Olive Mill Road, complained the project will effectively strip away his front yard and diminish his property value and quality of life. County public works officials countered that none of Ritner’s property is being taken, but stressed they are working with him to alleviate some of the negative impacts. 

Once the roundabout is cleared for takeoff, construction is estimated to cost $5.5 million and last at least 14 months.

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