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

The Highway 101 widening project is still motoring along, the Santa Barbara City Council was informed this Tuesday, with three of its four phases — from Mussel Shoals to Carpinteria — now complete. Construction on the last few miles of widening — through Montecito and Santa Barbara — is tentatively scheduled to begin in summer 2023, once state funding is secured. Meanwhile, parallel work on the new Olive Mill and Los Patos/Cabrillo roundabouts will start in the fall of 2022 and early 2023, respectively.

The other half of the “lane and train” strategy to relieve traffic congestion, however, is suffering from post-pandemic fallout, city staff reported. Rider demand, available equipment, and staffing levels are all so diminished that the Pacific Surfliner may soon be unable to provide morning peak hour trips. The Coastal Express bus service out of Ventura County, on the other hand, has seen a steady increase in ridership and is about to put five new zero-emission battery-electric buses on the road. 

Councilmember Meagan Harmon asked about the narrowed lanes and potential safety issues created by the highway work. A representative of Caltrans, which is leading the project in partnership with the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments, said recent statistics provided by the California Highway Patrol have not shown an uptick in collisions. He did note, however, that drivers really ought to slow down in construction zones. “When we say 55, we mean it,” he said.

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