Local News

Tuesday, Feb 25 2014 12:46 PM

City gets early release of $180 million to buy Centennial Corridor, 24th Street property

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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 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 AND RUTH BROWN Californian staff writers tdouglas@bakersfield.com rbrown@bakersfield.com

Bakersfield has secured the early release of more than $180 million in federal funding allowing it to buy property in the path of Centennial Corridor and fund right-of-way and design on widening 24th Street.

City officials asked for the early release of the money 16 months ago, and learned Friday they had been approved.

The news was announced at a press conference Tuesday at City Hall North.

Ahron Hakimi, executive director of the Kern County Council of Governments, said this is hugely important to the city because the money will come from the $630 million in federal earmarks brought home to Bakersfield by former Congressman Bill Thomas, R-Bakersfield.

Its early release means the funds cannot be raided by another jurisdiction.

"The $165 million is committed and it's allocated for the right-of-way portion and can't be taken away. So this is pretty significant," Hakimi said.

Most of the money -- $165 million -- will allow the city to buy property in the path of the proposed Centennial Corridor link between the Westside Parkway and Highway 58.

Hakimi said being able to respond to about 75 property owners who have expressed interest in selling their properties early could advance progress of the city's Centennial Corridor build by as much as two years.

Ward 2 Councilman Terry Maxwell said he's certain he'll receive calls from constituents about the early acquisitions.

"There were some emails that went around, but that didn't give me a chance to ask questions," said Maxwell, who has been critical of city staff reports on 24th Street traffic issues. "I just wish something like this had come out in a way that the city council could discuss it. I'm not sure how they're going to present it."

City Manager Alan Tandy said approval to proceed with early acquisition of properties will be requested at the next meeting of the Bakersfield City Council March 5.

Ward 7 Councilman Russell Johnson declined to comment specifically on the early release of the money until he has read the city staff report on the acquisitions, which will accompany next week's agenda.

"I know from the city's perspective, moving forward on TRIP is a good step for the city and improving our overall transportation network. It will definitely be an adjustment to our current transportation network," Johnson said.

The early release of the money will not allow the city to use the eminent domain process now on properties in the path of Centennial Corridor.

Tandy said it could take six months to a year to receive the EIR.

The rest of the money, nearly $16 million, will go toward designing the widening of 24th Street and acquiring the property needed to build it.

The Bakersfield City Council voted 6-1 at its Feb. 12 council meeting to approve the EIR on widening 24th Street.

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