Union Valley Parkway will provide freeway access to southern Santa Maria, and Airport.

Santa Barbara County has about 30 percent of the right of way in hand for the final section of Union Valley Parkway, and is negotiating with Walmart to purchase the remainder.  The retail giant owns three of five parcels necessary to complete the third phase of the road project, county Public Works Director Scott McGolpin said last week, adding that the hope is to begin construction on Phase III next summer and have the entire project finished in 2013.  Agreements with owners of the other two parcels have been reached, according to the county.

“The city (Santa Maria) has completed Phases I and II, and Union Valley Parkway is ready to go once the interchange is finished,” McGolpin said. Once the right of way is acquired, Santa Maria will do the construction.  Caltrans is planning to construct the Highway 101 interchange that completes the project toward the end of 2012, McGolpin said.   The road, which will run from Highway 101 to South Blosser Road near the airport when complete and give Santa Maria a freeway connection in the southern part of the city, has been part of the city’s circulation plan for decades.

The county is cooperating with the city of Santa Maria in the design, construction and delivery of all three phases of the project, and is responsible for obtaining and delivering the right-of-way for Phase III, which is in the unincorporated area.  As part of the right-of-way negotiations, the Board of Supervisors followed the direction of county counsel last week and agreed to retain Los Angeles attorney Duff Murphy of the firm Oliver, Sandifer and Murphy, in the amount of $50,000.  The cost will be paid from the county counsel budget, but the county is eligible for reimbursement from federal highway funds.

Murphy has extensive experience in eminent domain proceedings, and worked with the county in previous eminent domain actions, including acquisition of property for a new North County jail.  If a negotiated purchase of the right of way is not possible, county counsel wrote in the board letter, the supervisors may want to file an eminent domain lawsuit to avoid delay of the project’s completion and any additional expenses. Hiring Murphy allows the county to handle the matter without hiring additional staff attorneys.

The board must approve any eminent domain proceedings separately from Tuesday’s action.  McGolpin stressed, however, that Murphy also has right-of-way expertise “as we work with Walmart on a deal to the purchase the property at fair market value.”  “Our hope is to put a second offer (to Walmart) out shortly,” McGolpin said. “We have a first offer on the table. We haven’t heard anything back on the first offer. Our hope is to put another offer on the table after the holidays and start the communications again.”  McGolpin said the county hopes to have the deal with Walmart finished by June.

Amelia McLear, senior manager for Walmart’s public affairs and government relations, confirmed that the company is engaged in discussions with the county about the project.  “We respect the desire of the county to move forward on this project, and appreciate the benefits it will bring to the community,” McLear said.

When the new roadway is finished, it will give the southern portion of the city much-needed freeway access and improved traffic flow. It also will create freeway access for the Santa Maria Airport Business Park.  Right now, Orcutt and the southern end of Santa Maria are served by just two freeway off-ramps, Clark Avenue and Santa Maria Way.

The parkway, which is sourth of Foster Road, is designed to reduce traffic on both of those roads and Lakeview Road, a highly used connector between Bradley Road and Highway 135.

Staff writer Brian Bullock contributed to this story.

By Marga K. Cooley / Associate Editor / mcooley@santamariatimes.com Santa Maria Times | Posted: Monday, December 19, 2011