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By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian
BY ANTONIE BOESSENKOOL Californian staff writer email@example.com
Joan and Rob Kerr have a folder full of documents they've collected on the Centennial Corridor project: letters, information sheets, neighborhood flyers and a map that shows one of three potential routes running right over their house on Marella Way.
The Centennial Corridor, the Thomas Roads Improvement Program project to link Highway 58 to the Westside Parkway and eventually Interstate 5, could clear out up to 356 homes, more than 10 times as many as the 24th Street widening project that recently has stoked so much debate.
The draft environmental impact report, which would outline the potential paths of the project, has been delayed by at least two years. At one point it was due out in the summer of 2010, then the end of 2011, then July 2012. Now Caltrans says it likely will release the report, a key step toward property acquisition and construction, in February 2013.
In the meantime, the Kerrs want to know what's next. Should they replaster the pool? Update the house's stucco facade? Plan on moving once they both retire?
"It's not that we're against progress," Joan said. "We know that Bakersfield is growing and has to address traffic issues.
"The problem is being in limbo. We can't make improvements to our home. We can't legitimately put it on the market. ... We were willing to wait for awhile ... (but now) we just want to know, and that's been the frustration."
The Kerrs are nearing retirement -- Joan as a curriculum specialist for the Rosedale Union School District and Rob as a civil litigation lawyer -- and want options once they do, they said.
"They've gone way outside the bounds of reasonableness as to making a decision and informing the public and allowing people to go on with their lives," Rob said.
"There are improvements that we would've made to this house and we thought, there's no point," Joan added. "We could've made them four years ago and had a nicer house."
A COMPLEX PROJECT
Caltrans is looking at three route options. Alternative A, the westernmost route, would run west for about a mile on the south side of Stockdale Highway, then turn northwest and cross Truxtun Avenue and the Kern River. Alternative C, farther east, would mainly run alongside Highway 99. Alternative B is roughly halfway between the two.
According to current Caltrans estimates, Alternative A would cost $658 million for right-of-way property acquisitions and construction, Alternative B -- still the cheapest -- would cost $553 million, and Alternative C would cost $642 million.
Alternative A would take out the most homes, according to the latest technical studies from Caltrans.
Alternative A would take out an estimated 356 residences and 127 commercial properties. Alternative B would take out 310 residences and 121 commercial properties. Alternative C would take out the fewest residences (133) and the most commercial properties (198).
Janet Wheeler of the TRIP office in Bakersfield, who provided those figures from Caltrans, cautioned that they could change. City staff have expressed a preference for Alternative C.
Caltrans will recommend which of the three alternatives should be built in the final environmental document, according to Jeannie Stevens, assistant program manager for TRIP. But the draft environmental document, which will be circulated for public response before the final document is, won't include a preference for one of the three options. The public comments will have a bearing on Caltrans' final decision, she said.
Stevens said the complexity and huge size of the project -- plus the number of agencies involved -- have all been factors in why Caltrans hasn't yet released the draft environmental document.
"At the very beginning, we all worked really hard at accelerating the schedule," she said. "You can try to force those deadlines, but you have to also do what's best, due diligence on your project. You can only work as fast as the slowest element."
Moreover, environmental studies can only be done at certain times of the year, and missing a window can push other steps six months back, she said.
Changes and progress on other Bakersfield roads projects also has influenced traffic studies for the Centennial Corridor project, Stevens said.
"You can't treat each project individually," Stevens said. "That's why it really took a good three years to get the traffic tied down globally, then it takes more on the individual projects" to nail down specifics such as the number of lanes in an area or the design of intersections, she said.
"We're trying, believe us, we're trying our best," Stevens said. "I think we're at a point now where we're so close with everything."
TIRED OF WAITING
Mellie and Thornton Weymouth live on Kentfield Drive near Centennial Park, a location that appears to be in the path of Alternative B. They moved there from Delano 12 years ago when Thornton retired as a pastor.
Mellie said the couple originally planned to retire in Fresno but were persuaded to look in Bakersfield when a granddaughter said she wanted to live with them here while going to college.
"We just could not have chosen a better location," Mellie said. "I looked at so many places ... I walked inside (the house) and said, 'This is it.'"
Like the Kerrs, Mellie said she and her husband had put off repairs because of the uncertainty of whether the road project will claim their house.
"We were really putting off some of the things we wanted to do because you don't know what your future holds," Mellie said. "Finally, we got so tired of waiting."
The Weymouths recently had the inside of their house repainted and new carpet laid.
"I just can't feel it's that necessary to go on and on," Mellie said of the delay in the expected release of the draft environmental document. "I know there's a lot of concern, but they've had five years" to work on the project details, she said.
Tim Stonelake and his wife, Amy Richardson, organized their neighbors several years ago to respond to the project. Although the group, the Westpark Homeowners Association, or WHOA, hasn't met recently, it's still active, Stonelake said.
"It's been awhile since we've had a neighborhood meeting, but we were talking recently (that) it's time to get everyone together and inform everybody what we've heard," he said.
Property values and the quality of the neighborhood have degraded beyond what would be expected as a result of the economic downturn, Stonelake said.
"This cloud has been hanging over this neighborhood," Stonelake said.