Highway 101 Widening Project Gains $11 Million

Final Section of Carpool Lane in Federal Infrastructure Bill

The 101 parking lot during rush hours could turn back into a highway. | Credit: Paul Wellman

A far-reaching bill to improve roads, bridges, transit, rail, and water in the United States passed the House of Representatives on July 1, with several projects specifically targeted for the central coast. Among them is $11 million toward adding a carpool lane to the 101 between roughly Sheffield Drive and Milpas Street.

The INVEST in America Act (with INVEST standing for Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation) would put $715 billion toward infrastructure improvements nationwide, an every-five-years bill that provides bread-and-butter funding for local projects, said Lauren Bianchi Klemann, a spokesperson for the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments (SBCAG).

“The project on the 101 for carpooling [and] improved peak-hour train and bus service are all part of the puzzle pieces that this funding helps put together,” she said. “Congressman [Salud] Carbajal’s worked so hard to get this funding designated for our area. It really adds to the pot,” she said, for the $270 million project that lies ahead as Caltrans moves into the fourth and final phase of its highway-widening project, ongoing since 2008.

Carbajal, who sits on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, also gained $5 million in the bill for electric buses in San Luis Obispo and $4 million for a multi-use path between Morro Bay and Cayucos.

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The 2.5-mile carpool, or “high occupancy vehicle,” lane will be built from roughly below Milpas to above Sheffield over the next six years. The project also includes improving the railroad bridges over Los Patos and Cabrillo Boulevard to accommodate a second set of railroad tracks, which in turn should improve rail service. It will also add a southbound entrance to the 101 from Cabrillo Boulevard, sound walls, and improvements to the 101 bridges over Oak, San Ysidro, and Romero creeks.

“Thirty-three percent of the county’s workforce commutes,” Bianchi Klemann said. “Sixty-thousand people from neighboring counties come into Santa Barbara County, the majority from the south.” The new lane should go a long way to relieving the bottlenecks on the highway that turn the 2.5 miles into one-hour delays at times. Caltrans and SBCAG are working on the rest of the funding, she said, through state, federal, and local monies, such as Measure A.

The INVEST bill passed the House on a bipartisan vote, with two Republicans joining the 221 to 201 tally. The Senate hurdle remains, as well as the ongoing struggle over elements of President Biden’s first call for a larger infrastructure bill and more in terms of such necessities as childcare and paid family leave.

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