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SBCAG upbeat on state funds for Highway 101 widening

By   /   Monday, April 10th, 2017  /   No Comments

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More highway lanes, yes. Commuter trains, not so much.

That was the word from Santa Barbara County Association of Governments Executive Director Marjie Kirn, who told business leaders on April 10 she’s optimistic that passage of a California transportation tax will fill a big part of the $300 million gap in funding for the Highway 101 widening project.

“My jaw was dropping,” said Kirn, describing the late Thursday evening drama in Sacramento that led to the passage of SB 1. “It’s pretty exciting.”

In remarks before a Santa Barbara Region Chamber of Commerce leadership group, she said the passage of SB 1 is “the most significant increase in 23 years” for state transportation funding. She said she was encouraged that Gov. Jerry Brown’s repeated comments about the need for the Highway 101 widening, dubbed “lanes and trains,” would vault it near the top of the state’s priority list.

Kirn, who arrived from a similar post in Merced County four months ago, said that about half of the widening project is complete with eight of the 16 miles between Santa Barbara and Carpinteria completed and $165 million of Santa Barbara County “Measure A” funds designated for the project.

An additional $300 million will be needed to complete all of the project and she said it was “well positioned’ to receive state gas tax money. So-called “self-help” counties with designated transportation tax revenues will get priority, she said.

The bill solves a number of problems by indexing the tax revenue stream to inflation and imposing a fee on electric vehicles so that they pay their fair share.

But Kirn was as cautious about the prospect for a well-timed commuter rail option as she was optimistic about the addition of new carpool lanes. The addition of a new train just for Ventura to Santa Barbara service could be prohibitively expensive, she added.

But she said the full plan envisions a “multi-modal model” and, after racking up a yes vote of 80 percent for Measure A, she said “we want to keep our promise to the voters.”

A court challenge by Montecito residents could also delay the timetable for the highway widening.

• Contact Henry Dubroff at [email protected]

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