While physical improvements to Highway 101 through Santa Barbara may still be a long way down the road, the Santa Barbara City Council is continuing to discuss methods of decreasing traffic congestion on the highway.
Council members heard a presentation at their meeting Tuesday regarding the progress of the 101 In Motion project, a plan to reduce traffic on the 101 from Milpas Street to Coast Village Road by providing alternative means of transportation for local motorists. Santa Barbara County Association of Governments (SBCAG) spokesman Gregg Hart, who made the presentation to the council, said it gave him the opportunity to receive feedback from the council members on each of SBCAG’s four possible solutions to traffic congestions on the freeway.
Also at the meeting, council members voted to give $34,983 to the URS Corporation to research Native American artifacts that were uncovered during construction at the Santa Barbara Airport.
Hart said each of the four traffic-reduction plans proposed adding a combination of elements – such as a commuter train, toll roads, express buses or an additional freeway lane – in order to alleviate the traffic problems.
“There isn’t that big of difference between the packages,” Hart said. “Three of them include commuter rails – which shows the trains need to be part of the solution – but they don’t solve the problem, so we have to do something beyond that.”
Hart said SBCAG will release more information about each of the prospective solutions to the community before deciding which plan will actually be implemented.
“We want to pull people together to tell them about the pluses and minuses of each plan and find out which plan will be best for community,” Hart said. “We want the best long-term solution with the least impact.”
Hart said he wants to begin implement the project within the next five to 10 years because studies show that traffic on the southern coast of California will increase dramatically over the next 30 years as more people are forced to buy homes outside of Santa Barbara and commute into the city for work.
“The traffic problem is partly due to high housing costs on the Central Coast that cause commuters from North County and Ventura County,” Hart said.
Council member Brian Barnwell said he thinks installing a commuter train and creating an additional high-occupancy lane on the freeway would be the best possible solution, and he said he thinks these additions would also make public transit a more appealing option for commuters.
” I think it will make people think, ‘Why sit in a car when I can ride the bus and read the paper?'” Barnwell said.
The city council will continue to supervise SBCAG’s development of the 101 In Motion project, Barnwell said, in order to ensure that the improvements are made without damaging the aesthetic quality of the area.
“We want it done in the Santa Barbara style,” Barnwell said. “We don’t want Caltrans’ ugly bridges.”
Hart said once SBCAG picks a plan, the group will have to find funding for the project. He said a commuter train alone would cost $100 million and the project as a whole could cost up to $700 million. The best option for funding, Hart said, would be to use a half-cent transportation tax created by Measure D, a ballot item approved by voters that allocates a percentage of their tax money to finance improvements to the county.
“We want to extend Measure D for the next 20 years,” Hart said. “That wouldn’t cover the whole project, but we could leverage it with state and federal funds to fund the construction we’re talking about.”
The council’s decision to grant the URS Corporation – a civic infrastructure consulting firm – $34,983 came after construction workers recently unearthed several Native American artifacts while working on the Terminal Area Expansion Project.
Barnwell said the Santa Barbara Airport was built in 1940 atop land that once belonged to local Native American tribes. He said this is not the first time workers have found such artifacts and, in the past, the city has typically allocated $20,000 to $30,000 for research on the findings.