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Thursday, Jul 25 2013 08:30 PM

Centennial Corridor property negotiations won't start until at least fall

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Celia Herrera, third from left, and a friend Suzie Marquez, taking a photo of the map, attended an informational gathering Thursday afternoon in the Kern County Administrative building on Truxtun Avenue hosted by Caltrans. The open house was for the Centennial Corridor project to answer residents' questions on the project that would take out about 200 homes in the Westpark neighborhood. Herrera said her home was definitely one of the houses that would be affected by Alternative B, Caltrans' preferred alternative. She said they just did some remodeling work and have lived there for 13 years.

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BY THEO DOUGLAS Californian staff writer tdouglas@bakersfield.com

More than 199 single-family homes and 36 businesses stand in the way of the proposed route for the Centennial Corridor freeway connection, but acquisition of these properties will not begin until fall 2013 at the earliest, Bakersfield transportation officials said Thursday.

The most hotly debated segment of Bakersfield's ongoing freeway construction, the Centennial Corridor, eventually will connect the new Westside Parkway to Highway 58 and Interstate 5, if Caltrans' preferred route for the project, the so-called Alternative B, is built.

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Alternative B would cut through the middle of the Westpark neighborhood, southwest of California Avenue and Highway 99.

The exact numbers of properties in its path are expected to change slightly next year when Centennial Corridor construction design happens.

Currently, city officials expect to buy 199 single-family homes, 16 multi-family units such as apartment buildings, and 36 commercial and industrial properties. The city also expects to purchase portions of 32 single-family homes and one multi-family unit, and parts of 15 commercial and industrial properties.

"We haven't started acquiring property," said the city Real Property Manager Donald Anderson. "The latest we've heard, if you look on the Caltrans website, I think what they're saying is fall of this year. The timing is entirely in Caltrans' hands."

According to Anderson, the city has $194.2 million set aside for "all aspects of the right-of-way portion of the project," including purchasing properties, relocation assistance, demolition, mapping, legal expenses and utility relocation.

A federal transportation bill approved last fall included language intended to hasten what officials call "early acquisition" -- allowing people who know their properties stand in the way of the wrecking ball to contact the city and negotiate the sale of their homes or businesses.

Bakersfield officials applied to Caltrans on Oct. 1 to be the first city to make use of this provision. But after answering additional questions from Caltrans about the project, the city still is waiting.

According to the Westpark Home Owners Association's Facebook page, the group advises against homeowners selling early.

"The Environmental Impact Report (EIR) has not been finalized and we are still vigorously opposing any routes passing through our neighborhoods," the group posted earlier this year. Amy Richardson, the group's co-chair, did not respond to requests for comment.

Homeowner Susan Pfettscher, a retired nurse, said she intends to make the city wait as long as possible before it acquires her house on Marella Way.

"I'm going to make them take me out of that house in handcuffs. I'm only half-joking," Pfettscher said, estimating she'll pay an additional $7,000 in yearly taxes when she loses her mortgage deduction.

Caltrans Public Information Officer Tami Conrado said that officials at the Thomas Roads Improvement Program, which administers Corridor work on behalf of the city, are "generally pretty accurate" in their timeline. Conrado declined to answer specific questions about the Corridor, referring a reporter to Project Manager Steve Milton, who was out of the office through July 28.

Caltrans' release of the Environmental Impact Report on Centennial Corridor also will be delayed, TRIP officials said.

According to TRIP officials, the EIR -- once expected to be released this spring -- now won't be seen before late 2013 or early 2014.

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