After receiving millions in funding from the state, local politicians and residents hope to have construction workers hit the road soon as the county prepares to expand Highway 101.

According to Gregg Hart, public information officer for the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments, the state’s transportation commission has allocated $70 million to Santa Barbara, which was funded by the federal gas tax. He said the extra funds will help pay for designs that seek to widen Highway 101.

“There’s $8 million for South County for the first phase of the widening of the freeway, which is supposed to begin early next year,” Hart said. “Right now it goes from three lanes down to two over at Milpas Street to Hot Springs/Cabrillo, but we want to fix that bottleneck.”

The California Transportation Commission also allocated $9 million to widen the 101 between Montecito and Carpinteria, Hart said.

“That’s what the design dollars are for – to do the planning involved,” he said. “We have to figure out if we’re going to widen the freeway to the inside or outside and what bridges are going to have to be replaced.”

Hart said the county also has plans to widen the 101 bridge in Santa Maria and that the state’s commission allocated $1.6 million for the design work of this project, claiming that the area has a traffic bottleneck, which the county cannot clear until construction is finished.

According to Hart, the state also provided funds for the development of two segments of the Santa Barbara County railway. In North County, transportation designers are pushing for the addition of siding to allow one train to move off the tracks while another train, coming from the opposite direction, passes. The siding will minimize delay times.

“There’s also funding for another siding down by Ventura County,” Hart said. “Lots of folks are interested in a commuter rail system and a siding is necessary.”

However, Hart said two phases of the county’s plans rely on funding from Measure D in order to meet the project’s completion. Measure D, a half-cent tax levied by the county that expires in 2010, was not renewed in the last local election after it failed to reach the two-thirds majority necessary for passage. On last fall’s ballot, the county had included a quarter-cent increase to the tax.

The measure will reappear on the upcoming November ballot, this time with the quarter-cent amendment removed. County officials hope to retain Measure D, which has generated $270 million since its inception in 1989.

Hart said the measure’s passage is important because, while the transportation commission allocated funds to pay for the design phases of Santa Maria’s bridge widening and the 101’s expansion between Montecito and Carpinteria, it did not fund the construction.

“We’re hoping that residents realize how important the tax is to finishing these freeway projects,” Hart said.