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Court Ruling Clears Way For Highway 101 Expansion Project In Santa Barbara County

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It’s a weekday tradition, but not a pleasant one. The morning and afternoon commutes mean big traffic backups for miles on Highway 101 from Carpinteria to Santa Barbara.

Caltrans and the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments have been working on projects to reduce the jam, from buses to the recently started commuter train service. The big idea that’s been talked about for decades is expanding the number of lanes on the 101, and a court ruling now opens the door for it to happen.

Plans call for adding northbound and southbound HOV lanes for a ten mile stretch of the 101 between the two communities, in effect widening the highway from two to three lanes in each direction.

But, Jim Shivers, with Caltrans, says the project has been effectively been stuck in park for the last two years by a lawsuit. The suit questioned the environmental review of how traffic at intersections, and surface streets along the route would be impacted. It led to a revised environmental report.

On Tuesday, a Santa Barbara County Supervisor Court judge ruled the revision is adequate. The result is that the decision removes the final hurdle to the South Coast 101 HOV Lanes Project.

Despite the ruling, the bulldozers won’t be able to start work overnight. Construction is expected to begin in late 2019. Shivers says projects of this type typically take two to five years to complete.

One of the big, yet little known parts of the project is that while lanes are being added, the existing width of the freeway won’t have to be expanded. Caltrans won’t need to make big expansion of the right of way, because the HOV lanes will be added in the existing center divider area. Still, it will be a big project, and with an estimated $350 million dollar price tag, the most expensive in the county’s history. I

n March, the California Transportation Commission gave the project a huge boost, granting Caltrans and the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments $226 million dollars, or about two thirds of the estimated total project’s costs.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral. 
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