Deal with it.
That’s our advice to the citizens of Montecito, that exclusive community which now faces the “horror” of a plan to add one additional car pool lane in each direction on Highway 101 from Casitas Pass Road in Carpinteria to the recently widened exits at the far eastern border of the city of Santa Barbara.
Prior to the Great Recession, the conventional wisdom was that the 101 would never be widened through Montecito. The community was too politically influential. The route was too expensive. CalTrans would never do it.
But the Great Recession has turned conventional wisdom on its head. Some of the formerly well-heeled Montecitans can’t afford the political tab required to retain that influence. Declining construction costs have lowered the tab for widening this crucial stretch of the 101.
Meanwhile, the state is determined to remove roadblocks to trade and commerce in California, and the 101 through Montecito is decidedly a big block for a gazillion dollars of goods, services and — this is extremely important — tourist dollars moving from Los Angeles to the highly desirable locations on the Central Coast and beyond.
Moreover, Montecitans have few real alternatives. If they block the widening as they did a couple of decades ago, they will face less-than-desirable consequences. Among them, increased air pollution as traffic clogs up going west in the morning and going east in the evening. Along with the clogging on the 101 comes clogged side streets as people seek alternatives. And with clogged side streets come more accidents.
Finally, there is this. As long as Highway 101 remains a clogged an inefficient highway, homeowners will remain at a competitive disadvantage to areas much closer to Los Angeles when it comes to property values. We’ve seen an unprecedented decline in house prices — even in wealthy enclaves such as Montecito. An attractively rebuilt 101 could be the key to unlocking those values in the future.
The public hearings that are taking place now about the proposed car pool lanes inevitably will result in big turnouts and lots of complaints. We’d encourage readers and others who are residents of Montecito to turn out and have a say in developing the best possible plan to widen the highway.
The region deserves upgraded landscaping, which would tend to mitigate noise and reduce the carbon footprint of traffic. It deserves a well-thought-out plan that provides access for bicycles and local residents trying to cross the freeway to access popular beach locations or hotels.
But at the end of the day, Montecito should fall in line and accept history’s judgment that the South Coast of Santa Barbara County often operates in a way that reflects Winston Churchill’s broader observation of America. That is, you can count on the region to do the right thing, after it has exhausted all of the alternatives.
The alternatives have largely been exhausted, folks. It’s time to face facts and widen Highway 101.