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Another leg of the Highway 101 expansion project is complete on the South Coast. But what's next?

A project adding carpool lanes through Carpinteria, along with new and improved bridges, interchanges, and other work was completed last week, but the overall expansion into Santa Barbara is still years away from being done.

Carpool lanes are now complete from Ventura County through Carpinteria, but the project still has to go from Summerland to Santa Barbara

Traffic is flowing well on Highway 101 in Carpinteria, something which often didn’t happen during the morning, and evening commute hours.

Last week, another major step towards decades old efforts to end chronic traffic congestion between Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties was completed. Caltrans District 5 Director Tim Gubbins said carpool lanes were completed through the City of Carpinteria, along with bridge and intersection improvements.

Traffic between Ventura, and Santa Barbara on Highway 101 has been an issue for decades. Tens of thousands of commuters travel the section of highway daily, in addition to people passing through the region. What’s a half-hour drive can sometime stretch to 90 minutes.

People have been talking about adding lanes, and doing other projects to ease the congestion since the 1980’s. But, the work has been finally taking place, starting in Ventura County. The next segment extended to Carpinteria, and the just completed portion adds carpool lanes through Carpinteria.

Democratic Congressman Salud Carbajal of Santa Barbara admits it’s taken a long time to get this far. Like many people, he admits he was skeptical at times about whether it would all get done. But, he says he can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Leaders say Santa Barbara County, and California voters have helped shore-up the timeline for the phased project, by passing two transportation tax measures, one at the county level and one at the state level.

Santa Barbara County Supervisor Das Williams is also chairman of the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments, the organization which works with Caltrans to spearhead the 101 improvement projects. He said the Carpinteria segment finished ahead of time and under budget.

Williams notes work is already well underway on the next segment moving towards Santa Barbara. That's the biggest leg, from Summerland to Montecito.

After Summerland, it’s extending the carpool lanes from Montecito into Santa Barbara. It comes down to getting more state and federal funding, with the price tag estimated at close to $240 million.

Depending on funding, the last segment may be broken down into multiple projects to get the work started faster.

The State Transportation Commission has already kicked in $184 million for past and current phases of the 101 improvements. Commission Director Mitch Weiss, thinks they’ll do more to help, because he believes projects like this are the future of easing congestion.

Weiss says you can't just add lanes. The Carpinteria project includes improvements to train and bus service, expanding bike lanes, and work to enhance the community's general traffic flow.

Until the entire project is complete, there will still be bottlenecks, where the 101 goes from three to two lanes. But, transportation officials say each new segment is helping to reduce the overall problem, and that translates into less time being stuck in your car during peak travel times.

But, the effort is far from done. Even with the needed funding, the best estimates are that it will be at least 2028 before the Ventura County to Santa Barbara carpool lane expansion effort is complete.