BY THEO DOUGLAS Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
With construction of controversial Centennial Corridor more than a year away, city officials hope to build unrelated parts of the project sooner to improve traffic congestion, add jobs and spend federal highway funds before other jurisdictions might raid them.
Caltrans officials suggested the idea to city officials roughly six weeks ago, City Manager Alan Tandy said Tuesday.
Representatives of Caltrans did not respond to requests for comment.
Engineers at the Thomas Roads Improvement Program, which oversees major highway construction for the city, are designing four projects, in hopes of getting them approved independently by Caltrans this year, and built in 2014. They include:
* A second Rosedale Highway off-ramp lane from south Highway 99;
* Soundwalls and retaining walls on Highway 58 from Highway 99 to Cottonwood Road;
* A dedicated transition lane from northbound Highway 99 to eastbound Highway 58, at Ming Avenue; and
* Westside Parkway improvements including a westbound auxiliary lane between Coffee Road and Calloway Drive, adding turn lanes to off-ramps in both directions at Calloway Drive and a pull-off area for vehicle maintenance in eastbound lanes east of Calloway Drive.
None of these seems to be linked to Centennial Corridor, the hotly-debated freeway segment connecting Highway 58 to the Westside Parkway, but officials said that in transportation, everything is related.
"It's improvements that need to be done to make sure that once Centennial Corridor is connected to Westside Parkway, everything will work around it," said Kristina Budak, a TRIP engineer.
Caltrans' Environmental Impact Report on Centennial Corridor, once expected this spring, is due in January. Construction won't begin before early- to mid-2015.
As the city has waited, it has faced steadfast opposition to Centennial Corridor from residents and business owners who would lose property to the freeway.
Building these four freeway improvements first would cost $100 million, but Tandy said funds are available from the $630 million in federal earmarks that former U.S. Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Bakersfield secured for city highway projects.
Eighty percent of the $100 million, or $80 million, will come from the Thomas earmarks. The city will provide the remaining $20 million from city gas and utility tax money, and development funds.
Committing by September 2014 to spend this $80 million will guarantee no other jurisdiction poaches the city's money, Tandy said.
"This isn't some sort of pessimistic thing. We're assuming that Centennial Corridor is going to move forward," Tandy said, when asked whether Centennial Corridor will be built. "The federal gas tax legislation expires then, and we still have jealousy issues, and so the best way to avoid any kind of problem is to have the monies legally committed."
It's unclear how many jobs would be created. Tandy referred a reporter to the program for the Westside Parkway grand opening Aug. 2, listing 112 local subcontractors, suppliers and vendors who worked on it, suggesting these four new projects could have a similar effect.