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Santa Maria Sun / Canary

The following article was posted on January 14th, 2014, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 14, Issue 45 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 14, Issue 45

Why widen?


I’m going to fly a bit outside of my usual comfort zone this week by writing about a South County issue. Of course, what happens down there sometimes comes up, so it’s really an all-county issue.

I’m talking about traffic.

By the time most of you read this column, the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments Board of Directors will have already met at a public hearing regarding the plan to widen Highway 101 south of Santa Barbara proper. My crystal ball has been acting funny ever since I let Sun cartoonist Ross Mayfield borrow it to use as a visual reference for the bowling ball he drew for this week’s cover illustration. Now, instead of revealing the future to me so I can write about it, I just get fuzzy pictures of Abel Maldonado on election night, but it’s so blurry I can’t tell if he’s smiling or grimacing as he accepts or concedes the California governorship. It’s not good for much else.

Oh well.

I’m writing this column anyway because in recent days, I’ve seen a letter from Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider pop up here and there, in which she laments the projected overall cost of the widening project and objects to the money South Coast folks will have to put up over the years to make it happen.

The project, as it currently stands, is incomplete, she argues, because funding to mitigate the problems it will create on surface streets isn’t yet secured. One solution leads to other problems that need their own solutions. Yes, this is how life works.

I’m not begrudging her her opinion, nor her desire to act in what she sees as the best financial interests of her constituents, but I’m not sure what call to action she’s making in her piece, aside from “Wait.”

She apparently wants everyone who would benefit from a wider highway—everyone who slows to a creeping crawl on their way south—to adopt the same traffic-jammed pace when it comes to this project. Wait and see if locals can secure grants that would cover the cost of congestion developing elsewhere. Wait and see if Caltrans would be willing to wait and see until every last piece of the ever-shifting puzzle clicks firmly into place. Wait until there’s a guarantee to account for every penny put toward every mitigation.

Schneider has bristled at being told to “just build it,” ultimately noting that “the $140 [million] voters approved in Measure A was meant to be an incentive for Caltrans to widen the 101” and “I do believe that [voters] voted for Measure A for a variety of reasons, not just funding the freeway expansion project.”

I found this on the SBCAG website, explaining Measure A: “The measure calls for North County and the South Coast of the county to each receive 43.4 percent of revenues, or an estimated $455 million, generated over the 30 years the measure is in effect for high priority transportation projects and programs. The highest priority project in the Measure A program, the widening of U.S. 101 on the South Coast of the county, will receive 13.4 percent of revenues generated, estimated at $140 million, which will be used to match an estimated $285 million in state and federal funding to fully fund the project.” Elsewhere, it notes: “Relieving the traffic congestion caused by the two lane bottleneck on Highway 101 south of Santa Barbara is [the] county’s biggest transportation priority.”

So even if it wasn’t the only reason, widening the 101 in Schneider’s neck of the woods is certainly seen as the main reason. And this measure passed back in 2008, with funds starting to be collected in 2010. What will waiting do at this point besides dragging the whole process out?

Again, I’m glad that a mayor is standing up for the interests of her city, but I’ve also seen, in my wanderings, what a hotly contested infrastructure project can do to a down. Just look at Los Osos in nearby San Luis Obispo County. The folks up there have been trying to install a sewer for more than three decades because nobody could ever agree on how to fund it, what sort of sewer it should be, who should do the work, where it should go, and the like. Leaders have come and gone, and yet the project trundles on. Ground has been broken now, and work is plowing forward, but count back more than 30 years to when this project started, then ask today’s SLO County supervisors what sorts of statements they still get during public comment opportunities.

And no sewer yet.

Be glad that you’re dealing with cars and not guano, eh?

Seriously, nothing will ever be perfect when it comes to traffic, to government, to life. But somewhere, at some point, someone has to say that despite the imperfection, it’s for the good of a whole lot of people—people who already agreed to move forward—to actually, you know, move forward. As is.

Saying “just build it” is not shrugging and rushing ahead with no goals or fund-securing efforts in mind. A lot of work and research has already gone into this widening project, and—at least as I understand it—other revenue streams are available and possible. Just not guaranteed.

But what in this world is?

Besides traffic south of Santa Barbara, I mean.

 

The Canary thinks everybody should abandon cars and grow wings, but realizes that’s not exactly possible. Send comments to canary@santamariasun.com.