January 28, 2023
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Editorial: Highway 101 upgrades a big boost for business


With a $53 million project nearing completion through one of the most congested parts of Highway 101, the stage is being set for what Ed Sullivan might have called “the really big show.”

Business travelers and consumers already are reaping the benefits of the initial phase of the 101 upgrade — adding additional lanes from the Hot Springs to Garden Street exits on the east side of Santa Barbara. Up next is a series of multi-year projects that will create a bigger and better 101 for decades to come. They include:

• Widening and rebuilding the bridge across the Santa Maria River to speed the flow of commerce between North Santa Barbara County and San Luis Obispo.

• High-occupancy vehicle lanes that will widen the 101 though Carpinteria and surrounding communities.

• A rebuilding of the freeway through La Conchita to complete a six-lane configuration all the way to the Ventura County line.

• Incremental improvements to speed traffic flow through south San Luis Obispo county.

The total bill for these projects is $500 million or more, but if time is money — and rest assured it is — the benefits for travelers on the business backbone of our region will be enormous.
Indeed, during the past decade, the improvements on the 101 mean that this is not your father’s freeway. Most recently, in East Ventura County through Calabasas, widening projects have dramatically increased the highway’s capacity.

But a look back shows an even more dramatic string of upgrades. In North Santa Barbara County, for example, a freeway widening through Santa Maria has set the stage for the bridge upgrade into San Luis Obispo County.

Stepping back in time, the rebuilding of the Santa Clara River bridge and the Conejo Grade in Ventura County and the Cuesta Grade in San Luis Obispo County were giant steps forward for commerce in the region.

Five hundred million dollars is a lot of money. But when you consider what it will accomplish for trade and commerce, it is a wise investment. In contrast, California’s proposed bullet train, which will largely bypass the Tri-Counties, is a $100 billion investment with dubious benefits.

And in case you are attempting to do the math, $500 million is one-half of one percent of $100 billion. Now that’s something to really ponder.