Correction: The reasons for the Highway 101 project were inaccurately listed as population growth and poor infrastructure, when in actuality the problem is with an increase in commuter traffic. Additionally, Kirsten Ayars was misidentified as a Caltrans spokesperson. Her correct title is the project community outreach liaison. The Nexus regrets these errors.

Commuters traveling on Highway 101 near downtown Santa Barbara should expect increased traffic delays as a major freeway expansion project commences this July.

Drivers should anticipate construction to affect a two-mile stretch of highway between Milpas Street and Hot Springs Road. The project — which is expected to take four years to complete — will include the creation of a third lane heading south along 101 from Milpas Street to half a mile past Hot Springs Road, as well as a combination of third lanes heading north from Cabrillo to Milpas. Improvements to surrounding bridges, ramps, sound walls, pedestrian and bike passes, as well as the construction of a roundabout at Hot Springs Road in Montecito, are also part of the plan to improve traffic flow.

According to Kirsten Ayars, the project community outreach liaison, the operational improvements are meant to target the chronic traffic problems — particularly the bottleneck area that plagues drivers heading southbound near Milpas Street — created by a growth in commuter traffic.

Ayars said on this portion of the highway, which has just two lanes heading in either direction, commuters have experienced longer delays due to the increased traffic flow through the area.

“In the mornings, there are big backups, and in the afternoon they are even worse,” she said.

While Ayars said intermittent lane closures will occur, the majority of the construction will take place behind concrete barriers during daytime hours. Ayars said this will allow both 101 traffic lanes in either direction to remain open during peak hours.

Still, Ayars said commuters may experience increased congestion along that stretch of highway during the period of construction.

“Motorists should anticipate 10 to 15 extra minutes of driving time, in addition to the time it currently takes them [to travel from Milpas to Hot Springs],” she said. “So people should try to plan ahead for that.”

Ayars added that there will be disruptions, such as temporary on- and off-ramp closures and some nighttime lane closures are inevitable.

According to the Project Updates schedule on the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments Web site, the Milpas northbound off- and southbound on-ramps will be closed for seven and five months, respectively.

Additionally, the Hot Springs southbound off-ramp and the Cabrillo northbound off-ramp will also face closures of four and two months, respectively.

In anticipation of these potential impacts on local commutes, the SBCAG Traffic Solutions group has developed Curb Your Commute, an outreach program aimed at encouraging county residents to use alternative forms of transportation from driving alone.

The operational improvements project, which will cost an estimated $53 million, is financed in large part by Measure D, a half-cent sales tax approved in 1989 to fund transportation projects, as well as by state funds.