January 28, 2023
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Editorial: SBCAG takes big step toward 101 widening


You might call it yet another case of a “Rick Caruso moment,” where the South Coast takes a big step forward without much public notice.

The Business Times stumbled on the term “Rick Caruso moment” when Montecito quietly approved a revamped design for the Miramar Hotel amid protests from both the developer and opponents. Similarly, at a Santa Barbara County Association of Government’s meeting on March 19, a preliminary design for widening the last 10 miles of Highway 101 between Montecito and Carpinteria got what amounts to a green light.

The $150 million project, which includes $34 million in state funding, still needs a final design and Sacramento’s approval for its share of the funds. There are a few extra pieces the city of Santa Barbara would like to see approved, too, which could hold things up a bit longer.

But without much fanfare, a huge advance in transportation in the region has taken place. Sweeping aside the perennial objections from the Montecito crowd, the county’s Board of Supervisors and representatives of major cities have given thumbs up to the final piece of transforming Highway 101 from a secondary to a major transportation corridor.

Simultaneously, Sen. Hannah Beth Jackson, a Democrat from Santa Barbara, and others pushing for more rail service also won a victory, gaining concessions from Union Pacific for additional commuter trains to run in the Moorpark-Goleta corridor beginning in 2016.

When we began publishing 15 years ago, the conventional wisdom was that Highway 101 would not be widened in our lifetime. In this case, the conventional wisdom was dead wrong.

In recent months, Caltrans has opened miles of three-lane freeway with elegant bike paths between La Conchita and Casitas Pass Road in Carpinteria. And much of the flexibility to improve Highway 101 comes about because of Santa Barbara County’s Measure M quarter-cent sales tax revenue for roads, passed in 2004.

Ventura City Councilmember Carl Morehouse eloquently made the case for a similar measure for Ventura County.  The trigger for his decision to push for a tax was a series of rail accidents, one fatal, in the county.

We’re not sure whether there is enough electoral will to pass such a measure, but business leaders in Venture County would be wise to note the impact that Measure M has had in transforming the Highway 101 corridor.