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Thursday, Jan 02 2014 05:09 PM

TRIP financing hits slight bump in the road

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Caltrans hosted an open house for the Centennial Corridor project to answer residents' questions on the project that will take out homes in the Westpark neighborhood. This took place in 2012 in the Kern County Administrative building on Truxtun Avenue.

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BY THEO DOUGLAS Californian staff writer tdouglas@bakersfield.com

The city's various highway upgrades will keep rolling in the new year, but Bakersfield's route to paying its share of the Thomas Roads Improvement Program may be headed for a slight detour.

That's because, as its secretary promised in September, the West Park Home Owners Association has taken the city to court, challenging its plan to borrow millions to match some of the $630 million in federal earmarks that former U.S. Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Bakersfield, secured to expand highways in metropolitan Bakersfield.

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Attorneys representing Bakersfield asked a Superior Court judge on Oct. 4 to determine whether city utility surcharge revenue, gas tax funds and transportation development funds would be "valid" sources from which to repay the money.

On Monday, WHOA attorneys Brumfield & Hagan accused the city in Kern County Superior Court of "willful misconduct by a public agency in violation of public trust and public policy," and alleged that borrowing the money would create an "unusual and unsustainable debt risk" for Bakersfield and its residents.

In an email, attorney Robert Brumfield declined to comment because the case is ongoing.

City Manager Alan Tandy said officials expected opposition from WHOA, which he said could delay a judge's decision for nine months or more, but they have other short- and long-term financing options available.

Tandy said he did not expect the legal challenge to jeopardize the federal earmarks, which periodically have been eyed jealously by other state and local agencies.

It could, however, cost the city anywhere from $175,000 to $225,000 to defend.

WHOA represents homeowners whose houses are in the path of the proposed Centennial Corridor freeway link between Highway 58 and Westside Parkway and, some day, Interstate 5.

Other TRIP projects include the $49.5 million widening of 24th Street, which also would require demolition of residential and commercial properties.

The Bakersfield City Council committed in 2008 to borrowing $246 million in matching funds. That amount has since risen to $270 million.

The city's preferred way to borrow it would be through a federal Department of Transportation loan, which offers later payments and a lower interest rate.

As part of the so-called "validation" process, anyone wishing to oppose it had until Dec. 30 to do so in court.

The case returns April 2 to Kern County Superior Court for a case management conference.

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