Coastal Highway 101 improvements
- Ventura Chapter representatives have attended several meetings with CalTrans on planned Hwy 101 widening through northern beaches of Ventura County. We have expressed the need for coastal access in our written and verbal comments, plans are not finalized yet...
Coastal Highway 101 improvements will relieve and aggravate
Residents, drivers in mix
By Tony Biasotti
Monday, October 26, 2009
Life in the little seaside hamlets north of Ventura means waking up every day to two big, loud, dangerous, impersonal forces: the Pacific Ocean and U.S. Highway 101. And while it’s the ocean that gives Mussel Shoals and La Conchita their names and their identities, the highway could soon loom larger in day-to-day life.
Caltrans plans to break ground in 2011 on a new carpool lane for Highway 101 as it passes Mussel Shoals, La Conchita and Rincon Point. The $151 million project will also include a bike path that is separate from the highway lanes, a new walkway under the highway between La Conchita and the beach, and the closing of the left turn lanes in and out of La Conchita and Mussel Shoals.
The project has the potential to ease the traffic headaches of tens of thousands of people who commute between Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, and it also has the potential to both aggravate and relieve some of the worries of the people who live within steps of the highway and the visitors who enjoy the surf and the beaches.
The residents’ biggest concern right now is the California Department of Transportation’s recent decision to move a bike path that’s part of the widening plan from the mountain side to the ocean side of the highway.
Caltrans officials say they would have preferred the bike path to be on the mountain side, but the California Coastal Commission asked them to move it because it wants to encourage development of a network of coastal trails that stretch from Oregon to the Mexican border.
“It certainly provides a different experience when you are next to the ocean as opposed to across the freeway from the ocean,” said Coastal Commission District Manager Steve Hudson.
Putting the bike lanes on the southbound side means a smaller shoulder on that side of the road — 10 feet, down from 19 feet now — which means there won’t be room for surfers, fishermen and beachgoers to park their cars. The southbound shoulder near La Conchita is designated now as emergency parking only, but the rule is rarely enforced.
Robert Brunner, a Mussel Shoals resident who also owns a home in La Conchita, had an unprintable word for Caltrans’ decision to move the bike lanes and take out the shoulder parking.
“I hope they can keep that parking there, for the sake of humanity, because that’s such a beautiful beach,” he said.
Mussel Shoals and La Conchita residents also worry that losing the shoulder parking might prompt beachgoers to crowd their streets looking for parking.
That was one of the primary concerns Mussel Shoals residents voiced at a meeting last month with Caltrans planners. Project Manager Ravi Ghate and Senior Environmental Planner Carlos Montes told the group there was nothing they could do about putting the bike lanes on the other side of the highway, but there were other, smaller requests that Caltrans could comply with.
For example, residents objected to an original design that would have funneled bicyclists onto a surface street through Mussel Shoals. Montes agreed to keep the bike path on the highway instead.
“We obviously want to consider everybody’s opinion and see that most are benefited in most ways,” Ghate said later. “This is part of our typical public outreach. Sometimes there are things we can do, and sometimes we can’t.”
Caltrans is also including sound walls at the request of Mussel Shoals homeowners. The agency asked people living in all of the small communities along Highway 101 whether they wanted sound walls, and Mussel Shoals was the only community that voted for them.
The walls will be from 8 to 14 feet tall. They’ll help with sound, and they’ll also bring peace of mind, said Steve Bennett, who owns a home in Mussel Shoals that he rents to vacationers. He is no relation to county Supervisor Steve Bennett, whose district includes Mussel Shoals.
“We’ve had an 18-wheeler flip over and land right here,” he said recently, standing in front of his house. “It will be really nice to have a wall between you and the freeway.”
The walls could interrupt the ocean views from the highway, but Montes pointed out that Mussel Shoals only takes up about a quarter mile of the 12-mile coastal drive between Rincon Point and Ventura. “You get an obstructed view from the houses that exist there now, so we don’t think it’s a real change,” Montes said.
Hudson said the Coastal Commission is interested in preserving “blue-water views” from the highway, and it will have to analyze whether the proposed sound walls block too much of the view. In the interest of preserving ocean views, the Coastal Commission also asked Caltrans to use an open railing instead of solid cement walls to separate the highway from the bike lanes.
Caltrans officials say the new bike path will be far safer than the current situation, in which bicyclists share the roadway with cars and trucks. But it doesn’t go far enough for Brunner, who said he’d like to see a bike trail that’s totally separate from the highway.
Like many Mussel Shoals and La Conchita residents, Brunner has mixed feelings about the project. The new and improved highway should handle the traffic better, give bicyclists a safer option, and shield Mussel Shoals from the sound.
But a close connection to a busy highway isn’t all bad. The left turn onto Highway 101 is dangerous, but it cuts a few miles off the drive from Mussel Shoals to the nearest grocery store, in Carpinteria. And Brunner speaks of more intangible benefits.
“We have motorcycle rallies, classic cars go by, we can see what’s on the train,” he said. “I watched the Olympic torch go by from my front door. ... It’s kind of fun to have an eye on that freeway and see the world go by.”