Local News

Thursday, Jul 05 2012 10:49 PM

Residents speak out on TRIP's 24th Street plans

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    By Shelby Mack / The Californian

    Chuck Dickson, who has played a major part in organizing people in opposition of the current proposed plans for the 24th Street widening project and distributing the red "24th Street Freeway" shirts, voices his opinion about the current plans for the project to the Planning Commission during a meeting on Thursday night.

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    By Shelby Mack / The Californian

    Terry Maxwell expresses his concerns about the current proposed plans for the 24th Street widening project to the City Commission during a meeting on Thursday night.

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    By Shelby Mack / The CalifornianThe crowd reacts to a joke that Dr. Ruth Guffman tells while giving her comments to the Planning Commission regarding the 24th Street Widening project.

    Shelby Mack / The CalifornianThe crowd reacts to a joke that Dr. Ruth Guffman tells while giving her comments to the Planning Commission regarding the 24th Street Widening project.

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    By Shelby Mack / The Californian

    Claire Clerou, Barbara Antone Giovanni and Anne Seydel wait outside the City Council Chambers before the meeting where the Planning Commission opens the floor for public comments about the 24th Street widening project begins.

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Vehicles including a GET bus and cyclist travel east on 24th Street near Oak Street and east of Highway 99 in this file photo.

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BY ANTONIE BOESSENKOOL Californian staff writer aboessenkool@bakersfield.com

Bakersfield residents packed City Council chambers Thursday night to voice their opinions about the planned widening of 24th Street through Bakersfield.

More than a dozen wore red T-shirts with the words "24th Street Freeway" crossed out to show their opposition to the project, while another dozen or so stood when asked to rise to represent a group proposing to make changes to the city's preferred plan to widen the street on the north side.

The session before the Bakersfield Planning Commission was the second of two to gather public comment. Residents spoke about a variety of concerns, such as what the project will mean for safety, historic homes, noise levels and air pollution.

The 24th Street widening is one of several Thomas Roads Improvement Program projects to upgrade and expand the city's roadways in anticipation of more traffic as Bakersfield grows. The project would widen Rosedale Highway and 24th Street from the southbound Highway 99 ramp to 0.2 miles east of M Street. There are three options: the city's preference to expand 24th Street to the north; expand it to the south; or make no changes at all.

Resident Wayne Kress laid out an idea that one group of residents, who call themselves the Do It Right, Do It Now group, has gotten behind: to take the plans to widen the street to the north and add to them. That plan calls for making almost all residential cross streets east of Oak Street into cul-de-sacs instead of having them intersect with 24th Street, as they currently do. It also would add a tree-lined median and sidewalks, bike lanes, trees and eight-foot walls along both sides of the street.

"We support this alternative only if it includes our desired modifications," Kress said of the city's preferred plan. "These modifications are a far cry from what 24th Street looks like today. ... We think this is pretty nice."

Several people spoke in favor of the plan, which the group has dubbed The Westchester Parkway, named for the neighborhood it would run along. But many others spoke against both of the options laid out by TRIP for widening the road.

"We feel like it's going to look like a freeway," said resident Chuck Dickson, wearing a red T-shirt protesting the project. Dickson suggested making improvements to the street without widening it to six lanes from four, which would happen if the project were built.

Dickson, like several others, suggested city planners look at routing traffic to Highway 204 instead of expanding 24th Street.

"If we can make a 'no build' with modifications one of the alternatives, let's do that," Dickson said. "We can certainly beautify that roadway."

Other residents talked about their desire to see an established neighborhood, filled with memories for them, go undisturbed.

"Our neighbors and our families are losing their homes," said resident Chris Goetjen of the homes that would be torn down as part of the project. "Take a moment and think about how you would feel knowing the home you grew up in, you raised your family ... is going to be demolished just to add two more lanes of pavement and bus stops."

"It really insults all of our intelligence that we've only got two options," said Bakersfield resident Terry Maxwell. "There should be plenty of ways that can accomplish the goal of reducing the traffic, or improving traffic flow on 24th Street without completely taking out a bunch of houses that people care about."

Maxwell and several other speakers asked that TRIP engineers return to the drawing board. Others asked the city to extend the period for commenting, saying the amount of time given to digest a volume of information wasn't enough.

"A street like 24th Street with six lanes is going to kill it, absolutely kill it," said resident Ruth Gelman. "No one crosses a six-lane freeway."

Resident Scott Kuney said he supported the idea of the Westchester Parkway, but not the notion that it would be based on the aesthetics of Old River Road or Ashe Road, which he described as sterile and uninviting.

"This is a great opportunity for this town, this commission," he said. "Let's do it right. Let's think about the details."

The session opened with a report from city staff outlining the need for the project. Ted Wright, the city program manager for TRIP projects, said that in 2010 there were about 62,000 vehicle trips a day on 24th Street, a figure that's expected to grow to 87,600 by 2035, based on TRIP's traffic projections.

The project will ultimately be voted on by City Council members and the director of Caltrans District 6, a step that is expected this year, said Elliot Kirschenmann, the commission's chair. Property acquisitions are expected to take place in the summer of 2014, and the project is expected to be done at the end of 2015, Wright said.

TRIP and Caltrans staff are accepting public comments until July 16 and won't respond until that period is finished, said Public Works Director Raul Rojas.

"At that point, we will look at all the comments, and try to incorporate as many comments as we can into the project that is within our budget limitations," Rojas said. In mid to late August, TRIP staff will present a final environmental report, incorporating public comments, to the Planning Commission.

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