Santa Barbara County is getting a new commuter train and freeway lane as part of a multimillion-dollar project aimed at reducing the amount of traffic on Highway 101.

The Santa Barbara County Association of Governments (SBCAG) unanimously approved the 101 in Motion Plan’s proposals to add a carpool lane in both directions south of Milpas to the county line and commuter rail that runs from Camarillo and Oxnard to Goleta – an approximately $500-million project that aims to reduce traffic on the 101 freeway – at its 8:30 a.m. meeting yesterday. The plan, which calls for the construction of an additional lane on the freeway and the creation of a commuter rail service to extend from Goleta into Ventura County, drew criticism from a city official in Carpinteria, but was supported by 80 percent of residents in South Santa Barbara County, SBCAG Public Information and Government Affairs Coordinator Greg Hart said.

According to an SBCAG report, both the train and the extra freeway lane will extend from Goleta into Ventura County. The train will use existing tracks owned by Union Pacific Railroad.

James Wagner, program manager of the UCSB Transportation Alternatives Program, said he supports the council’s decision to include the commuter rail in the plan and he thinks UCSB students could use the train within the next few years.

“We could have a solution in three years, as opposed to three decades,” Wagner said. “SBCAG has been studying this plan for over a year and gave a recommendation for both a train and a lane.”

Approximately 600 UCSB students, staff, and faculty commute into Santa Barbara on a regular basis and all of them could potentially benefit from the proposed commuter rail, Wagner said. He said rising gas and housing prices in the Santa Barbara area could force more people to live outside of Santa Barbara and use the train as a means to commute back to the university.

SBCAG member Jim Kemp said the group analyzed the plan for 18 months before it was approved. He said public opinion polls of the project showed that, in addition to the large amount of support for the train, 70 percent of locals were also in favor of adding a lane to the freeway.

The $79-million commuter rail project will be primarily funded by money from Measure D, a ballot item originally approved by voters in 1989 that allocates a percentage of tax money to finance county improvements. Hart said SBCAG will review the plan in December and will decide how to raise the remaining $400 million required to build the extra freeway lane. He said council members could decide to pay the project off over a period of 30 years through regular transit taxes.

Carpinteria City Council member Greg Gandrud said he is worried that voters approved Measure D under the assumption that widening Highway 101 was the top priority. He said the measure, which is up for renewal in 2006, might not pass again because voters are unwilling to bear the expense of an additional commuter train.

Without the revenue from Measure D, the project would weigh too heavily on individual cities like Carpinteria, Gandrud said. He said he is also concerned the train will slow construction on the additional lane.

“I’m delighted that we can finally move forward with the freeway expansion, but concerned that the expensive rail project will result in a delay of highway construction,” Gandrud said.

Hart said he views the passing of the plan as a triumph for Santa Barbara County residents.

“The board recognizes the hard work of the community in coming to a strong consensus,” Hart said.