Where is Santa Barbara’s commuter train?

Photo by Don McCullough

If you’ve driven southbound through Carpinteria on Highway 101 lately, you may have noticed all the construction. It’s the latest installment in the highway’s widening project, projected to be completed in 2027. But, when Santa Barbara county residents voted overwhelmingly to tax themselves in 2008 — in the form of Measure A — they were promised both an expanded freeway and a commuter rail.

So far, there’s no such train.

KCRW’s Jonathan Bastian spoke with Pacific Business Coast Times reporter Joshua Molina and Santa Barbara County Association of Governments spokesman Gregg Hart. Below are highlights from the conversation.

So, why don’t we have the train?

Competing interests.

Amtrak already has a popular train service that heads from Ventura County to LA County. “They’re not seeing any financial benefit to re-timing those trains, or redirecting them into Santa Barbara,” said Molina.

The city of Santa Barbara has been talking with track owner Union Pacific Railroad about creating a new line, but UPR has quoted $100 Million dollars for five years to lease the tracks.

What will it take to get a train?

Negotiation.

First off, any change to train operation in the corridor requires UPR’s permission. Secondly, other partners on that corridor, like Amtrak, must sign on.

“All of these services are interconnected, so if you make a change to the train schedule locally, it ripples through the entire system all the way down to San Diego,” said Hart.

SBCAG has recently approved spending $50,000 on a consultant to try to negotiate a solution that works for the train operators, track owners and local governments.

What will it take to finish the 101 widening?

Money.

Right now, there’s not even enough funding to complete the $60 million third phase of the Highway 101 widening project (expected to be completed in 2020), let alone the fourth and final phase (expected to be completed in 2027).

The good news? Governor Jerry Brown included the 101 widening project on the statewide list of priority transportation projects that were sent to President Trump and the federal government.

The bad news? Nobody knows exactly how Trump will distribute federal transportation funding, and whether or not he’ll prioritize California on his list of infrastructure investment projects going forward.

This graphic shows the four phases of the 101 widening construction. Phase 1 and 2 have been completed. Phase 3 is underway.

Who’s affected by all this?

About 20,000 people commute every day from Ventura County to Santa Barbara County to work. “It’s a nightmare,” said Molina. “You’re spending up to two hours on the road [each way]. Those are the people who are ultimately suffering because there’s not enough funding or political will to work this out.”

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