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By Casey Christie/ The Californian
BY THEO DOUGLAS Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
The city of Bakersfield has been able to bring in several projects -- including four phases of the Westside Parkway -- under budget, the city's Budget and Finance Committee learned Monday during a discussion of the $270 million that will have to be borrowed for the rest of the Thomas Road Improvement Program projects.
Those under-budget projects include the Truxtun Avenue tie-in to the Westside Parkway, which opens Friday. Budgeted at $28.1 million according to the engineer's estimate, it actually cost $24.4 million, a 13 percent savings. Similarly, improvements to Highway 178 at Fairfax Road were budgeted at $41.6 million, but came in 23 percent under budget, at $32 million.
"It's not just something that happened during the recession, it continues to happen," City Manager Alan Tandy told the committee, which comprises three Bakersfield City Council members.
" ... as local officials look at a large financial commitment, they need to be assured that they're not going to get to the last minute and have a huge cost overrun," Tandy said after the meeting.
This was a bit of good news to balance the reality that, in order to complete TRIP projects, such as widening Highway 178, building the Highway 99-Hosking Avenue Interchange and constructing the controversial Centennial Corridor, the city must take on millions in debt.
In 2008, the council approved borrowing $246 million -- an amount it learned earlier this year had risen by slightly less than 10 percent to $270 million.
TRIP officials said the earlier amount was based on preliminary information, and the current amount, which is not expected to increase, more accurately reflects project cost.
The city currently contemplates borrowing that money some time in the next three to four years, through a TIFIA loan offered by the federal Department of Transportation, and secured by city gas tax funds, and transportation and utility surcharge fees.
Committee members questioned whether either option for a TIFIA loan -- a 33-year term with $14 million yearly payments, or a 20-year term with $19 million yearly payments -- was an appropriate solution for taming Bakersfield-area traffic, and whether the city would have enough road improvement funds left for upkeep in its seven council wards.
"There's no guarantee those funds are always going to be there," said committee member Terry Maxwell, who is Ward 2 councilman.
"The revenue estimates are all made conservatively and they are cross-checked by multiple sources," Tandy said. "It's belt, suspenders, whatever else holds your pants up, layer upon layer of caution."
The committee will continue discussing how to borrow the matching funds at its August meeting.