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By BOB BRALEY
As many of you have read in The Californian, the city of Bakersfield will have to come up with $270 million in local matching funds as a condition of receiving federal money for Thomas Roads Improvement Program construction, primarily the Centennial Corridor project.
This project, planned now to go through the Westpark neighborhood of central-west Bakersfield, will be financed in part by existing gas taxes and a tax on your utility bill (yes, there is a transportation tax on your utility bill). But most of the cost will be financed over a period of about 35 years, which will add many more millions to the total cost. But the entire cost -- gas taxes, utility taxes, financing -- is over a quarter of a billion dollars of city taxpayer money that will be diverted from other transportation and road repairs and improvements in the city for that 35 years.
As The Californian noted ("City short $270M for road projects," Feb. 14), this is no surprise to the city. City officials chose to make these decisions years ago in order to get money from federal transportation funds that they considered to be free money. After all, why would anyone not spend $270 million on a road they don't need, and divert $270 million from other projects that will benefit the entire city, when you can get 80 percent more money for free? It is like spending $100 on a $500 widget you have no need for because it was on sale and figuring you saved $400.
Caltrans' stated purpose for this road and the Westside Parkway is the same one it has been touting for nearly 30 years -- a need for a freeway west from Highway 99 to Interstate 5 to carry large volumes of heavy truck traffic to relieve Rosedale Highway/Route 58. The Westside Parkway and the Centennial Corridor are supposed to be the beginnings of that freeway. (Unfortunately, the Westside Parkway is already built and that money is gone. Also, a close look at the maps shows that this road will do nothing to improve the traffic on Rosedale Highway and will probably increase problems on Truxtun Avenue Extension.)
The problem is that this is a myth and Bakersfield has believed it. Caltrans' own data (http://traffic-counts.dot.ca.gov/2011all/Route51-59.html) shows that after Allen Road, all traffic on 58 essentially dries up. From Enos Lane to I-5, only 490 total vehicles (not just trucks) at peak traffic hour (rush hour, if you will) travel 58 to I-5, both directions. Thus all the traffic we fight on Rosedale Highway is actually local traffic, not pass-through from, or to, I-5.
So, the freeway to I-5 is pure fantasy -- it is just a wild dream in the eyes of Caltrans engineers who are looking to stay employed. As for the Centennial Corridor, Caltrans just needs a project to build and they want more than $270 million of Bakersfield tax dollars to pay for it.
This project will destroy an entire neighborhood, demolishing more than 300 homes and 100 businesses and causing a devastating effect on hundreds more over a large area of close-in west-side Bakersfield. It will subject two schools to high levels of pollution. It will deprive all Bakersfield residents of $270 million in road construction and improvement funds for 35 years because the quarter of a billion dollars will be diverted from other transportation needs of the city. This will have a huge affect on the quality of life in the city and on all drivers in the city.
Not only is my home affected by this project, but I drive all over this city and the roads are in what I would call marginal condition. Personally, I think that $270 million in city transportation money should be better spent on local roads and not on a project Caltrans is trying shove down our throats. Two hundred and seventy million dollars that will have to be paid for over 35 years. For many of you, your grandchildren will be paying this debt.
I will be dead before it is paid for. Spread my ashes under the freeway.
Robert Braley, a resident of Bakersfield's Westpark neighborhood for 20 years, is retired from the insurance industry. Another View presents a critical response to a previous editorial, column or news story.