By The Bakersfield Californian
Caltrans announced this week what many residents of Westpark have long been waiting to hear: a decision on what route the Centennial Corridor will take. The question of how to fix Highway 58, Bakersfield's major east-west freeway, have been lingering for more than a decade. But even with Caltrans' preliminary announcement that the route will run through Westpark, taking out at least 310 homes, it doesn't mean action will be taken anytime soon. Caltrans officials said construction likely wouldn't start until 2015. A final decision isn't even expected until early 2014. So much for Westpark residents getting out of limbo anytime soon.
When the Westpark alternative was put on the table for serious consideration in 2008, we urged local and state officials to act quickly in fairness to property owners who will be impacted by the freeway extension. It didn't happen, but there is a silver lining: Westpark homeowners will get probably more for their homes than they would have in 2008, when prices bottomed out. The negative flip side, of course, is that the upturn means their chance to take advantage of the depressed market may slip by if the process doesn't proceed more quickly.
Another reason for urgency has cropped up, too: the potential loss of the money secured by former Rep. Bill Thomas to fund the project. The hundreds of millions for Kern roads was already under threat earlier this year when the Senate proposed reallocating it for other projects. Thankfully, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, Thomas's successor in Congress, came to the rescue. But that's not to say the threat is gone for good. The funding was secured as an earmark and now that those have been banned in Congress, it's a ripe target.
The more time that elapses before final decisions are made, the greater risk that funding faces and the more potential economic harm and inconvenience could come to Westpark homeowners.
If Caltrans is confident now that Westpark is the best route, why is it necessary to wait until 2014 to make a final decision? Let's move on this, and soon.