Community Voices

Sunday, Jul 07 2013 11:00 PM

JEFF TAYLOR: HSR will have bigger impact on Bakersfield than on other cities

All currently available sources of funding, including American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Federal Railroad Administration and proposed state bond sales, will not be sufficient to construct the high-speed rail project into Bakersfield. The California High-Speed Rail Authority has acknowledged the fact that funds will be exhausted for what has turned into "a new Amtrak rail corridor" far north of Bakersfield between the communities of Shafter and Wasco. There is no detailed funding plan to complete the proposed corridor from the Shafter area into Bakersfield. Additional funding for the project is uncertain at best and the possibility that funds may never materialize to complete the project into Bakersfield is extremely high.

Environmental studies for the three proposed rail alignment alternatives in Bakersfield are in many cases only feet apart from each other. They are not true alternatives because all three will cause similar, extensive and severe impacts to the city of Bakersfield. All three of the alternative alignments include 12 to 15 miles of elevated rail viaduct as high as 96 feet with an elevated station planned to be constructed over the top and through the center of the city.

Since the Authority's 130-mile Initial Construction Section from Madera to Bakersfield does not include electrified tracks, these cars will be diesel powered. Imagine the loud roar and clakity-clack noise of diesel powered Amtrak trains traveling high above your city and neighborhoods in the name of progress. The Fresno to Bakersfield environmental study abruptly ends with the train track dangling 60 feet above Oswell Street in east Bakersfield

(For an alternative view on this subject, read Another View by John Spaulding).

All three of the elevated alignment alternatives will unnecessarily impact the property values and quality of life of tens of thousands of Bakersfield citizens who live, work and play within sight and sound distance of the poorly planned elevated train route. Environmental studies of less destructive, true alternative rail alignments in the Bakersfield area have not been evaluated. For example, a peripheral rail alignment and station located in close proximity, but outside metropolitan Bakersfield may cost much less to construct and cause far less extensive impacts.

If the Authority certifies a preferred alignment for unfunded portions of the project from an undetermined nut orchard somewhere between Wasco and Shafter continuing south, over the top and through the center of Bakersfield, all property values located within that alignment will be immediately destroyed and all properties located within sight and sound distance of the proposed elevated alignment in Bakersfield will be severely devalued.

According to statistics found in Appendix 3.12-C of the High Speed Train Project's Revised Draft Environmental Impact Report and Supplemental Study documents, 31,719 Bakersfield city residents were located within half a mile of the elevated alignment in year 2000, and 81,699 Kern County residents lived within half a mile of the proposed alignment. Compare those figures with the next highest statistics of 12,680 in Fresno and 18,610 in Fresno County. The year 2000 statistics are not current, so the Authority's impacted resident figures are undoubtedly much higher today. These figures are disturbing because the Authority will not reimburse tens of thousands of property owners for "south of the tracks" property devaluations caused by their poorly planned rail alignment.

Bakersfield Planning Department statistics for community impacts located directly in the path of the three alternative rail alignments include Bakersfield High School, Mercy Hospital, Bakersfield Commons, Bakersfield Homeless Shelter and as many as eight churches and a Christian school; 186 to 272 homes will be destroyed displacing 569 to 833 residents; 135 to 302 business locations will be destroyed, affecting 1,040 to 1,521 jobs; and the train station will destroy between six and 22 business locations, affecting 174 to 229 jobs.

Properties located where no environmental studies have been conducted from Oswell Street, east toward the Tehachapi mountains, will also suffer immediate and severe property devaluations. Thousands of property devaluations in the metropolitan Bakersfield area will severely diminish local property tax revenues. If the Authority certifies a preferred alignment for unfunded portions of the project, Bakersfield and Kern County citizens will needlessly suffer unacceptable and extensive impacts for a poorly planned rail alignment that in all probability will never be funded or constructed.

Jeff Taylor conducts business in Bakersfield as a contractor in the construction trades.

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