City Beat Blog

Tuesday, Dec 04 2012 10:30 PM

Moving the planned freeway? Won't be easy

BY LOIS HENRY Californian columnist lhenry@bakersfield.com

I had some interesting feedback from my Sunday column on why Caltrans appeared to be favoring parks over people's homes in its plans to extend Highway 58 north to connect to the new Westside Parkway.

What I discovered in reporting that story was that there is nothing simple when planning a freeway over a long-developed area, such as the Westpark neighborhood.

Related Info

Lois Henry hosts Californian Radio every Wednesday on KERN 1180 AM from 9 to 10 a.m. You can get your two cents in by calling 842-KERN.

Caltrans open house

Open house Dec. 6 from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Kern County Administrative Office, 1115 Truxtun Ave. to go over all the Highway 58 extension numbers and detailed maps with Caltrans engineers.

Experts will also be on hand to discuss relocation costs and options.

Federal law prohibits any substantial alteration of parks or historic districts, which basically cut out the east and west alternatives to plowing through Westpark. (Though, frankly, the east and west alternatives would damage neighborhoods and displace people as well.)

In the end, Caltrans named its preferred route as Alternative B, directly through Westpark.

Some felt Caltrans erred by weighing cost more heavily than quality of life by picking Alternative B.

But I was reminded on Monday that cost is not something to be taken lightly.

In 2006, former Rep. Bill Thomas, then chairman of the House Ways and Means committee, succeeded in securing about $700 million to be used for roads in the local area.

But it wasn't just a free bag of loot that locals could roll around in and waste as they saw fit.

The money had to be spent to on roads that would increase our connectivity to the rest of the state.

The money had to be matched (to greater and lesser degrees depending on the road) by local money.

All the entities, Kern County, Kern Council of Governments, City of Bakersfield and Caltrans, had to participate and agree on what needed to be done and how to get it done.

If any of those principles weren't met, the money couldn't be spent.

And while there's no time hook to the money, the longer we wait, the less road it buys.

For the Highway 58 extension, there was $330, give or take, in federal money that had to be matched by about $330 million in money from Bakersfield.

That gives us just shy of $700 million to get it done. That's all we have. There is no state or federal fund we can dip into for more. That's the budget and if we don't live within it, the extension doesn't get built.

Caltrans looked at numerous routes and each one had its perils. It looked at going over or under the parks and historic district but each of those measures would have added hundreds of millions of dollars to the price tag.

The route has to come in at under $700 million. Period. Otherwise it's dead.

The other thing that could kill it is a federal lawsuit with any kind of merit at all -- such as proposing to pave over a park or historic district.

It may seem silly and inflexible when you compare a couple acres of a neighborhood park to hundreds of long established homes, but the U.S. Supreme Court and subsequent federal legislation made parks and historic districts sacrosanct.

All of which puts Westpark residents solidly between the old rock and hard place.

The only thing that might save them is to come up with a route Caltrans might not have thought of, such as building the extension over Stine Canal, as David Lomas suggested on Tuesday when he dropped by my office.

He mapped the whole thing out on a satellite photo and even drove the route to estimate how many homes and businesses might be destroyed, about 30 homes and a handful of apartment buildings plus 18 commercial buildings, he said.

I called and emailed Caltrans to see if a Stine Canal option had been put through their "route calculator" but didn't get an answer back in time for publication.

It's just that kind of discussion, though, that Lomas needs to have directly with Caltrans. Which is why Caltrans is urging people to please come to its open house on Dec. 6 at the county building (see below).

Maybe nothing can be done to save Westpark. I don't know.

But I wonder if there's something that could be done to at least make it a little less painful.

Perhaps the agencies involved could find a way to give people who agree to a sales price on their home or business in a timely fashion some incentive pay.

Say a 10 percent bump on the price?

That could go a long ways to helping people plan the next stage of their lives after being held hostage by Highway 58 for so many years.

Opinions expressed in this column are those of Lois Henry, not The Bakersfield Californian. Her column appears Wednesdays and Sundays. Comment at http://www.bakersfield.com, call her at 395-7373 or e-mail lhenry@bakersfield.com

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