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<b>STOP AND SHAVE: </b> Back in the 1950s, traffic on and across Highway 101 was light; but by the ’90s, the wait at the infamous Santa Barbara stoplights was long enough to shave or sort your mail.

S.B. Historical Museum

STOP AND SHAVE: Back in the 1950s, traffic on and across Highway 101 was light; but by the ’90s, the wait at the infamous Santa Barbara stoplights was long enough to shave or sort your mail.


Ride on the Wild Side or Mild Side?

Four Decades of Battle Quelled the Stoplights on Highway 101


Thursday, September 5, 2013

UP OR DOWN? Hey, let’s go for a fantasy ride along Santa Barbara’s Crosstown Freeway. But wait, how come we’re going up? Climbing this bridge-like thing standing on steel stilts?

That’s because it’s a darn elevated freeway, offering great views of the town, mountains, and Santa Barbara Channel. But it’s ugly, rusting, and cuts the town in half.

So what goes? Well, during a 40-year battle to get rid of those old stoplights standing like sentinels along Highway 101, a blasted elevated freeway was what Sacramento was demanding.

Santa Barbarans, being the cussed folks we are when our backs are against the wall and the Huns are attacking, fought back. We dug in our heels for years, while drivers on Highway 101 cursed at red lights at Santa Barbara, Anacapa, State, and Chapala streets, the only holdup between San Francisco and L.A. Traffic, light in 1960, got worse and worse.

Barney Brantingham

And Santa Barbarans fumed while facing up to an eight-minute delay just trying to get onto the freeway or across it. Sitting in their cars, they drank coffee, fixed their hair and made up their faces, shaved, read the paper, played board games, meditated, pondered divorce, the state of the world, and mankind, and, for all I know, had sex. Mayor Sheila Lodge sorted her mail.

The pall of pollution was shocking.

The City Council debated, committees were formed, and studies were launched, disputed, and filed away. Finally, there seemed an agreement, of sorts: a depressed freeway, tucked down below and out of sight, its roaring racket muffled.

People hated it. For one thing, what about our high water table? If it had been built, we might be taking our imagined scenic drive splashing though a dark, ugly tunnel while lovely Santa Barbara basked above in the sun ​— ​or fog.

I remember all the sketches of the “freeway in a trench.” And the cost to dig it and keep pumping the water out? Critics howled that one accident down there could mean clogging the whole thing, with survivors climbing the walls to get out.

Meanwhile, all sorts of bizarre alternatives to running traffic through town emerged. One was to take all that noisy, polluting traffic out to sea, via a causeway, circumventing the town altogether, out past Stearns Wharf and the breakwater.

As you can imagine, that fantasy didn’t hold water. Think of the boats crashing into it, the winter waves cascading over cars. And, horrors, think of the hazard to cruise ships now making regular port calls here? (For news of obscenely expensive mega-yachts, see below.)

Some suggested routing Highway 101 up along Camino Cielo, along the Santa Ynez Mountains. That idea died a quick death.

By this time, in the 1980s, various Caltrans district engineers had come and gone. As the cliché goes, something had to be done. And it was. Let’s just run the darn freeway at grade about where the present one is, build old-fashioned entrance and exit ramps and a few underpasses, and proclaim victory, cooler heads suggested.

And so it was that in November 1991, the remaining signal was yanked out at Anacapa Street at a “Last Light Ceremony,” with Mayor Lodge presiding, a four-piece band playing, and weary residents cheering.

The whole darn episode took 40 years and cost $58 million. Thankfully, it’s only in our fantasy spin that we have to ride on steel stilts, down in a depressing trench, out in the water, or up on the mountain top.

Anyone think the city made a mistake?

WAVE AT RICK: Billionaire Rick Caruso just can’t seem to get his Miramar Hotel up and running after all these years. But then, he’s busy. Caruso, a shopping mall owner and developer who flirted with making a run for L.A. mayor, just took possession of his new 216-foot mega-yacht, Invictus. It’ll be cruising by the Miramar wreckage (if it hasn’t already) on its way from Seattle to Newport Harbor, where it’s not exactly welcome.

Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich’s new 377-foot mega-yacht, Luna, paid a visit to Santa Barbara last week. His girlfriend, Dasha Zhukova, 32, is a UCSB grad and the daughter of a Russian oligarch, according to Wikipedia. She’s a fashion designer and editor of the arts and fashion mag Garage. Roman can afford both Dasha and the Luna. Estimates of his wealth vary, but at last word, he was worth $14.6 billion.

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