A subject of controversy four years ago, the proposed Ward Memorial Freeway has reappeared in the study of transportation at UCSB and in the south coast area. The four year old issue is “dead,” according to the County Roads Department. Yet despite that claim, the “slough freeway” still lives on [in] the County General Plan and the State Highway Plan.
First proposed in 1969 — when it met with staunch, vocal opposition from students and some faculty — the Ward Memorial Freeway would cut through the Goleta Slough and extend to the north end of campus to serve as the major means of access to the campus. The issue came to a head when the administration announced it saw the freeway as the only feasible solution to future campus traffic problems.
In 1969, traffic studies revealed that by 1986 UCSB’s projected enrollment would increase traffic to 50,000 cars. Without a freeway, administrators claimed, cars would create massive traffic jams at the present two entrances.
In protest to the Administration’s views, environmentalists and community groups sought to defend the slough. Attorney John Sink, with the Sierra Club, the Audubon Society and the Citizens for Environmental Defense, studied various ways to preserve the slough.
Valued as a unique habitat, the Goleta Slough is one of the few remaining sloughs in the state, containing over 200 species of birds and marine organisms. These birds, plants and animals depend on the slough for their existence. Since 1957, conservationists have declared that over 85 per cent of all coastal marshes and wetlands have been destroyed.
The Goleta Slough remains. But it is threatened by the proposed freeway.
Sink and others rallied to the slough’s defense in efforts to designate it a wildlife preserve. If it is so designated federal statutes would protect the wildlife area and prohibit freeway construction. Sink requested a hearing on the matter to prevent the freeway extension and to attract Federal Government attention.
While the Federal Government voiced some interest in the issue, it released Santa Barbara from all obligations involving “AP-4” — the land designation under which the slough falls and Sink saw the necessity of renewing federal interest. Involved through the Department of Transportation, the Federal Government held legal interests because the land is federally owned and controlled by the Federal Aviation Administration. Yet the Department of Transportation released Santa Barbara from all obligations and thus, virtually gave the city the right to any use of the land as it saw fit.
The UCSB Administration attempted to deny the environmental hazards of the freeway by claiming that although the freeway construction would destroy 20 per cent of the slough, it would create new tide channels in the remaining part of the slough.
Despite the Administration’s argument, attorneys and faculty members, such as geography professor Norm Sanders, finally succeeded in obtaining a Coast Guard denial of four bridge permits which would be necessary to build the freeway.
The issue was shelved and the community believed the issue was dead. Officially, though, the county never removed the freeway design from the General Plan, nor did the state erase it from its Highway Plan.
The freeway, declared Bill Botwright of the Isla Vista Association, “may yet be factored legally into county planning.”
Prospects for the construction of a freeway, however, still seem quite dim. While the freeway remains a part of the UCSB Plan, campus architect Robson Chambers is planning future UCSB growth without consideration of the freeway.
Groups concerned with transportation like the Community Advisory Council and Isla Vista Planning object to any new and unnecessary roadways. Ironically, the freeway remains on maps. Despite the heavy opposition still held against the freeway, its plans remain on official maps at all levels.
When recently asked by the Isla Vista Association if the freeway would be removed from the General Plan, County Roads Commissioner Leland Stewart replied negatively. “The freeway will not be removed until a review of south coast transportation is complete,” he said. Presently Stewart’s office will only respond that “the issue is closed.”
Because it remains on the maps, the proposed Ward Memorial Freeway influences the outlook for the whole future road system of UCSB and Isla Vista. Since the 1969 transportation studies, arguments against the freeway have found reinforcement from the fact that campus enrollment and projected traffic loads have not increased. Parking policies, Botwright explains, are strictly enforced and UCSB is trying continuously to modify ways of moving.
It is significant that the question, “What sort of roadways system is desired?” raises the more fundamental question of “Can automobile traffic be curbed and alternate modes of transportation be found for the south coast area?”
The area, Botwright notes, has the second fastest growth rate in California. Traditionally, any discussion of growth rate implies the consideration of new roadways, more cars and greater ecological damage.
Now under study by the Community Advisory Council, a group composed of representatives from the campus, Isla Vista and the south coast community, is a new transportation system for the south coast. Ultimately, a new transportation policy will be introduced at UCSB. Botwright expressed his concern with the growth of new roadways as part of the same concern with unrestrained growth.
Whether optional modes of transportation will develop in the plan to curb growth remains to be seen.
Coupled with the plans to pursue planning without removing the freeway design from the General Plan, efforts continue to seek solutions to the problem of alternative modes of transportation. Yet overshadowing this battle is the glaring fact that each year, despite state legislation to provide for other modes of transportation, millions of dollars pour in from the Federal Government earmarked for roads. To arrive at a viable transportation policy, it is necessary that alternatives to such roadways, existing or proposed, must be seriously considered.