Construction on Highway 101 from Milpas Street to Hot Springs Road has been delayed due to complications with the state budget.
The economic crisis in California resulted in a $10 million shortfall in the projected amount of funding anticipated for the project. Furthermore, Measure A — an extension of a half-cent sales tax to directly fund the widening of Highway 101, increase alternative transportation and promote green transportation — has faced criticism for allegedly misappropriating funds.
Despite these setbacks, however, officials remain optimistic about the completion of the project. According to 3rd District Supervisor Doreen Farr, the funding issues will not interrupt the plans officials have for the county.
“Some of our planned projects will need to be pushed back,” Farr said. “Any project named in a ballot must be done within the time period stated within the ballot. We will still bring everything we promised residents within the time the 30-year period this measure is for, but it will require us to put some things on hold for the time being. But all the major projects will be completed in the schedule they were assigned.”
According to Gregg Hart, public information officer for the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments, low-cost projects such as improved bike paths will not be put on hold.
“Smaller projects have a certain amount of money set aside,” Hart said. “The good thing about those kinds of things is that we can fit the project to the budget. If the money we have is less, then we can change the project to fit the new budget.”
In addition to the budget shortfall, controversy has also plagued the construction on highway 101 since Measure A was enacted in 2009.
According to Marc McGinnes, former lecturer in UCSB’s Environmental Studies Program and founder of the Friends of the Bridge organization, funds designated for the highway project were misallocated by the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments and California Department of Transportation to install suicide barriers on the Cold Springs Canyon Bridge.
Despite these accusations, Farr said there were no wrongdoings on the part of the county or Caltrans.
“The county had a certain amount of reserve funds that needed to be used,” Farr said. “We decided it would be best to be used on something as important as suicide prevention. The numbers of suicides on that bridge are continuing to increase over time and we felt something needed to be done about it.”
Friends of the Bridge, however, plans to take the matter to California State Superior Court.
According to Hart, however, Measure A was popular with local residents.
“We did polling with the public to see whether they thought this was a good idea,” Hart said. “Eighty percent of our citizens voted for it and everyone we asked thought it would be a good bill to push forward. It is very hard to find any official in the county who did not think it was a good idea. This was one of the very few times when almost everyone agreed.”