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Tuesday, Feb 11 2014 05:23 PM

24th Street widening heads to council for vote

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    By Felix Adamo/ The Californian

    A temporary white concrete "k-rail," disliked by many residents because of how it looks, divides eastbound 24th Street traffic on the left from cul-de-sac construction at the corner of 24th and Myrtle streets in downtown Bakersfield on Jan. 27. The Bakersfield City Council voted 6-1 to authorize construction of cul-de-sacs on several downtown streets this year before 24th Street is widened.

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BY THEO DOUGLAS Californian staff writer tdouglas@bakersfield.com

A Bakersfield City Council vote on certifying the Environmental Impact Report for widening 24th Street and improving its intersection with Oak Street and Rosedale Highway is expected to face opposition Wednesday from a group called The Citizens Against the Widening Project.

The council must certify the EIR before 24th Street's redesign can continue.

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The Bakersfield City Council meets at 3:30 p.m. to take public statements on items on the closed-session agenda before going into closed session. Its regular meeting resumes at 5:15 p.m. at City Hall council chambers, 1501 Truxtun Ave. Meetings also may be viewed live on cable channel KGOV. Past meetings can be viewed at http://tinyurl.com/qfatap5.

The roadway is the No. 1 most-traveled street in Bakersfield. It was designed to carry less than 40,000 vehicles per day, but parts of it are now used by nearly 60,000 vehicles every 24 hours.

Widening 24th Street through downtown, the project's most controversial and historic area, would require demolishing 23 single-family homes.

Expanding 23rd and 24th streets from three lanes in each direction to four between D and M streets, and from two to three lanes in each direction between D and Olive streets, would eliminate 293 street parking spaces.

City officials say the widening will improve safety and reduce congestion, and proposed landscaping will turn a tired road into a downtown gateway.

The Citizens Against the Widening Process is a citywide group of residents. It submitted a petition to the city with 625 signatures opposing the widening.

The group also purchased a quarter-page advertisement in Wednesday's edition of The Californian , telling taxpayers not only that they will be paying for the widening and the city is $30 million short in funding for the project, but also that the debt will be paid by raising gas taxes and PG&E surcharges.

"Regardless of how they get the money it's still going to be paid for by taxpayers' money," said A Street resident Vanessa Vangel, a founding member of the group.

Ward 2 Councilman Terry Maxwell, whose area includes the project, said he thinks there's a lot of truth to what the group is saying.

"I don't know that it's going to be raising our gas taxes and things like that. I assume it possibly could," Maxwell said. "The lion's share of what we're going to spend in the future is (city) money."

But city officials said the group is wrong about gas tax and utility fee hikes.

"There are no increases in those fees. The franchises with PG&E and SCE are forever at the existing rates so they can't be increased," said City Manager Alan Tandy. "The statement that it's short -- each of the Thomas Roads Improvement Program earmarks runs out at a point in time prior to complete funding of all the projects, and the city has been committed to picking up that balance."

Finance Director Nelson Smith said the state of California controls the gas tax, which is also not expected to increase.

Smith said nearly $33 million of the cost of widening 24th Street, a $62-million project, will be paid from $630 million in federal earmarks brought home to Bakersfield by former Congressman Bill Thomas, R-Bakersfield.

The remaining cost, approximately $29 million, will be borne by the city -- which Smith said has enough money to finish designing the project and buying the land needed, but not enough to build it.

The city intends to borrow as much as $270 million to pay its share of the widening and other Thomas Roads Improvement Program projects.

Attorneys representing the city filed a validation action in October, asking a Kern County Superior Court judge to determine whether city utility surcharge revenue, gas tax funds and transportation development funds would be "valid" sources from which to repay the money.

In other business, the council will hear a report from Public Works Director Raul Rojas recommending the city not pursue a request from Maxwell to study converting F, H, L, M, 17th and 18th streets to one-way to improve downtown traffic.

Rojas' staff report describes converting two-way streets to one-way as "typically a last resort action," and characterizes those area streets as "generally uncongested."

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