New study looking at traffic issues in the Santa Ynez Valley

Sep 13, 2019

The Santa Ynez Valley community gathered in Solvang this week to discuss traffic issues in the area. Concerns were voiced that various throughways in the area are becoming more congested, and in some cases, unsafe. Santa Barbara County officials have launched a study aimed at improving local roadways.

Chris Burtness lives in Santa Ynez. She said she recently approached a four-way stop, looked both ways and began to pull out when another driver came flying through the intersection.

“A guy goes by me at 35 miles an hour,” Burtness said. “I could see the face of the person I would have hit and they are looking at me like, ‘What are you doing?’ They didn't see the stop sign because it was covered by an olive tree.”

Four years ago, a 15-year-old Santa Ynez Valley high school student died after being struck by a minivan while crossing a nearby intersection on Highway 246. The school said the crosswalk was shrouded by dense trees and bushes.

Burtness said locals know what to watch for, but tourists visiting the area don’t.

“We have so many tourists in the area [and] they don’t know where some of our four-way stop signs are,” Burtness said.

Another local resident, Beth Benefile, echoed the same sentiment at Wednesday’s meeting.

“The casino and the wine industry [are] really polluting the area with tourists,” Benefile said.

Tourism in the Santa Ynez Valley is a main economic driver for the area. In addition to wineries and the Chumash casino, there are other draws such as Pea Soup Andersen's in Buellton, Solvang’s old-world Danish decor, and the cowboy town of Santa Ynez.

This year, Santa Barbara County’s regional planning agency—the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments (SBCAG)—the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, and Caltrans commissioned a $350,000 traffic study of the area. Using third-party, anonymous cell phone data from drivers, they are looking at travel times, speeds and congestion in the triangle of Highways 101, 246 and 154. Possible solutions under considered are installing roundabouts, signalized crosswalks and even removing lanes from roadways.

But before any changes are made, SBCAG's Michael Becker said they are taking a holistic approach to traffic issues in the area.

“[We’re] looking at the entire corridor and knowing what the impacts of one project [could be],” Becker said. “Essentially, if you release a bottle neck in one place, potentially you are just moving that bottleneck someplace else.”

According to SBCAG, "the new Traffic Circulation and Safety Study will identify and prioritize improvements that can accommodate future traffic increases, improve safety and ensure connections among various modes of transportation. A Bicycle Master Plan will be developed separately and will be coordinated with the overall traffic plan which is intended to provide a better quality of life for pedestrians, cyclists, motorists, residents and businesses in the Santa Ynez Valley."

Officials and traffic experts will take the community's input into consideration and then have another meeting in the winter, before they release results of their study in the spring. The goal is to create both short-term and long-term traffic solution. But even the short-term options could take years to resolve.

For more information, contact Michael Becker at SBCAG by emailing mbecker@sbcag.org or calling (805) 961-8912.