It’s been over a month since deadly mudslides washed through Montecito and shut down Highway 101 for weeks.
But, even though the highway is now clean, open and back to normal, traffic is moving at an especially sluggish pace and rush hour starts earlier and ends later.
“There are three causes, and they’re all kind of connected,” says Gregg Hart from the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments, which funds transportation projects in the county.
Here are the three reasons he spelled out.
1. Highway 192 is still closed
Six bridges along Highway 192, the surface street alternative to Highway 101, were damaged during the mudslide on January 9th. Three of them are completely closed and will need to be replaced.
In the meantime, thousands of cars that used to use the 192 as an alternate route each day are now back on the 101.
“Caltrans is working really fast to get those bridges repaired, but they are major construction projects and they will take some time,” said Hart.
Security Paving Company won a $20 million contract from Caltrans to rebuild Montecito Creek, Romero Creek, and Toro Canyon bridges, but Hart said construction could take at least a year before cars are allowed through.
“That’s extra congestion, extra cars, and the peak hours expand,” said Hart. “Folks that would normally drive at 7am try to go at 6am, and that causes congestion earlier and later.”
2. Trucks continue to come and go
As first responders continued to search for missing people that first week, dump trucks were already heading into Montecito. They’ve been hauling debris and mud out of the area and dumping it at Carpinteria Beach, Goleta Beach and landfills ever since.
“There’s the public mud that has to be taken out of the debris basins and off the roadways, but also there’s the private mud that’s in folks backyards,” said Hart.
Homeowners are now hiring their own crews to begin cleaning their homes and properties. Those trucks and contractor vans are slowing down the flow of traffic.
Hart said that could continue for years.
3. Lookie loos are taking their foot off the gas
Here’s the one thing commuters can control– to a degree.
Imagine driving through Montecito for the first time since the mudslide. Don’t you want to know what it looks like now? Even if your foot comes off the accelerator just a bit as you sneak a peak, that slows down everyone behind you.
“You see it all the time with accidents,” said Hart. “This is a massive natural disaster accident and folks are naturally looking at it.”
He said this will reduce over time, as drivers get used to the spectacle.
An alternative? Take the train!
Starting April 2nd, a new commuter train connecting Ventura and Santa Barbara will hit the tracks.
The Santa Barbara County Association of Governments (SBCAG) plans to spend up to $2.5 million of Measure A money to fund the service.
The train can hold up to 500 passengers each day. Hart said you’d notice if all of a sudden there were 500 fewer cars on the highway during your morning and afternoon commute.
But, how many people will actually decide to change their car-reliant ways and jump aboard the train? That’s a question for another blog post.