Caltrans favors plan 'B' for Bakersfield's Centennial Corridor

{A href=""}BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) Caltrans has finally selected a route to extend Highway 58, and it will go through the Westpark area. Neighbors say they will fight the plan

The decision has been a very long time coming, but agency announced on Thursday they are recommending so-called Alternative B for Centennial Corridor Project.

"The general consensus is that this was expected, and we're very disappointed," neighbor Amy Richardson told Eyewitness News on Friday. She's a co-chairman of the Westpark Homeowners Association.

Better known as "WHOA," they've been fighting the plans for a long time.

"They've been targeting this neighborhood for 40 years," Tim Stonelake said. He and his wife, Richardson, bought their home in 1993, and started the battle in '94.

Caltrans has most recently considered three options. Project Manager Steven Milton said Alternate B is the best choice. "As far as we're concerned, this is going to be the alternative," Milton said Friday.

He said the only other option now is "no build," but that's very unlikely.

"Why? Because usually when we move forward with a project that we have a need and purpose for what the project is going to do, then the 'no build' doesn't fulfill the need and purpose of what we're trying to achieve," Milton said.

The engineer said the purpose for the extension of Highway 58 is to help relieve east-west traffic on city streets, and cut the number of vehicles on Highway 99.

"I believe the traffic off 99 will be reduced, especially truck traffic," Milton said. "And you'll have a lot more trucks going to (Interstate) Five."

Alternate B will extend Highway 58 west from Highway 99 by about a half-mile along the south side of Stockdale Highway. The new stretch of freeway would go over Stockdale, turn north through the Westpark neighborhood, then over California Avenue.

At that point it would then connect with Truxtun and join the new, planned Westside Parkway just east of Mohawk Street.

Of the three routes under consideration, Caltrans said Alternative B was picked because the other options would directly affect parks or historic properties.

And Milton said there are other benefits to Alternative B. "It's one of the better geometrics, and it's $100 million cheaper than the next alternative," he said.

The statement says Alternative B will cost $570 million, and making changes to the other routes would have boosted the project cost anywhere from $787 million to over $2 billion.

In each option, houses and businesses would be lost. The Caltrans information says with "Alternate B" 310 residences have to come out and 121 businesses.

With "Alternate A" 356 residences would have been lost and 127 businesses, and under "C" 133 residences would have to come out and 198 businesses.

Richardson says her house wouldn't be demolished by "Alternate B," but it will be severely impacted. "I'll be one of the unfortunate ones left behind." She said the last available information shows her home a block and a half from the new freeway.

Milton said sound walls will be installed in the Westpark neighborhood around the Centennial Corridor route, and one area will be "depressed" to blunt the impacts.

Neighbors are not convinced, and argue a better route could have been found.

The problem is the dead end of Highway 58 at South Real Road. Engineers want to continue the highway and link it to other freeways. The goal is "continuity between (Highway) 99 and I-5, and put (vehicles) on a highway that we can get them into the system faster," Milton says.

Caltrans will hold a public meeting about the selection of Alternative B on Dec. 6, from 4-7 p.m. at the Kern County Administrative Offices in Bakersfield.

Milton told Eyewitness News the public will be invited to provide input and voice concerns. A draft environmental document is set to be done by April 2013, and that will be followed by a 60-day comment period and another public meeting.

Milton said the final environmental document is expected at the end of 2013. He said construction will be done in two phases, the public is likely to see construction underway by summer 2014.

With the price tag of $565- to $575 million, Caltrans officials say the Centennial Corridor is the biggest project in the so-called Thomas Road Improvement Program.

Milton said the money for the project will come from "TRIP," Caltrans state funds, and local matching funds.

Westpark neighbors say the worry there won't be enough money to complete the big project, and they remain opposed to it.

Richardson and Stonelake said neighbors are also angered by City of Bakersfield officials who had promised they would keep the freeway out of the Westpark neighborhood.

In 2001, a letter from the city council stated "Not only will the City not support this alternative, but the City will never enter into freeway Agreements with Caltrans utilizing this alignment."

That still rankles the neighbors. "We feel very betrayed by the City Council and mis-represented," Stonelake said.

Richardson says Westpark is a special neighborhood. She doesn't want to leave, and worries she couldn't sell her home with word of a freeway heading through it.

"The chances that somebody is going to move into a neighborhood where a freeway is impending is slim to none," she said.

"The fight's not over," husband Tim Stonelake said. "We're going to have a meeting, we'll be in contact with our attorney," his wife added.

Richardson said the home-owner group will host a meeting for neighbors on Nov. 26, starting at 7 p.m. at the First Assembly of God Church.
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