Public gets say on debated Centennial Corridor Project

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) The public was invited Thursday to chime in on plans for the Centennial Corridor Project.

The route that's been selected will cut a wide swath from the Westpark neighborhood, and residents pledged to show up at the meeting with plenty of questions for Caltrans.

"I think everybody wants to see what they'll say tonight, but we pretty much know what they're going to say," Dale Killian said earlier in the day. "We're going through your neighborhood."

Killian's lived on Del Ray Court for 35 years. If the Centennial Corridor ends up using Alternative B, seven houses across the street from him will be torn out, and four more on the cross street at the end of the block.

The house right next door will come out, and Killian would lose part of the front lawn of his home.

"It'll probably drive the value way down," he said.

Not far away, at California Avenue and Easton Drive, the Little Red School House preschool would be completely destroyed.

"This will all be plowed under," school owner Don Billiard told Eyewitness News before the Thursday night meeting at the Kern County Administrative Offices in downtown Bakersfield. "This will be the freeway."

Billiard said the Alternative B plan would take out both school buildings, plus the two homes his family owns next door where his mother and sister live.

His reaction to the route selection?

"Frustration is the main thing," Billiard said. "Because, there's nothing we can to about it. (Caltrans) has made their decision, and I don't believe they're going to change their mind."

Engineers have studied plans to extent Highway 58 for a long time. The final recommendation for Alternative B was announced last month. Now, the public can get a good look at the plan.

The evening meeting featured large-scale maps and project exhibits, detailing the process and options. Right-of-way specialists, engineers, and environmental planners were on hand to discuss the project.

Alternative B would extend Highway 58 west from Highway 99 for about a half-mile along the south side of Stockdale Highway, then turn northwest, and finally connect to the planned Westside Parkway just east of Mohawk Street.

Caltrans has most recently considered three options. Project Manager Steven Milton said Alternate B is the best choice. He said the only other option now is "no build," but that's very unlikely.

The engineer said last month that the purpose for extending 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 in November. "And, you'll have a lot more trucks going to (Interstate) 5."

In each option, houses and businesses would be lost. With Alternative B, 310 residences and 121 businesses will be impacted.

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

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

Of the three routes under consideration, Caltrans said Alternative B was picked because the other options would directly historic properties or parks. By law, those areas must be avoided for freeway project.

"I guess they would rather take out all these homes than a little piece of the park," Killian said. Westpark neighbors aren't impressed.

Though Killian's house won't come out, it would face a brick wall across the street, he said. Right beyond that, there would be the new highway.

"If the freeway is right over there, the noise is going to be terrible," Killian said. "And the pollution."

Residents said a group of Westpark neighbors wants to continue to battle the freeway plan.

"They want to come up with the money to get an attorney to fight it," Billiard said.

With the plan to take out his business, Billiard said Caltrans is supposed to replace his property in a new location and a "like situation." But, he doubts that can be done. Billiard said his location is great, and the school includes things like mature trees and special playgrounds.

"Are they going to relocate that?" he asks. "Are they going to keep my property taxes down under a thousand dollars a year, since we've been here since 1970?"

Billiard said he believes it would cost $2 million to replace the value of his current school property, and shutting down the facility would take away two-thirds of his family's income.

"We've been doing this since 1976," Billiard said. "I'd hate for us to have to go out of business for a freeway. I just don't get it."

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