BY JOSEPH LUIZ - Local drivers may soon start noticing smoother rides on Kern County roads. Gov. Jerry's Brown's controversial road tax, SB 1, is about to provide transportation funding that some might regard as nothing less than miraculous.
Caltrans will be accelerating work on dozens of projects locally and statewide after funding from Senate Bill 1 goes into effect Nov. 1. The bill, approved in April, gives the state $52 billion over 10 years for road improvements. Kern County is set to get $270 million of that, with Bakersfield receiving $87 million.
Caltrans talked about the funding on Wednesday at their maintenance yard on Olive Drive in Bakersfield, with City Councilman Andrae Gonzales, Kern County Public Works Director Craig Pope and others speaking about how the funding will have a positive impact locally.
“We are here today because very soon, much-needed funding will be flowing to our state highways and local streets and roads,” Gonzales said. “Funding will flow to every community in California, and every single driver in our community and in this state will benefit. We all will drive on smoother roads to grocery stores, to work, to school, to the gym, to anywhere we want to go.
”One of the projects that Caltrans has accelerated is a $5.1 million resurfacing of 1.6 miles of Highway 204 from Highway 99 to F Street in Bakersfield, which is set to start soon.
Other accelerated projects include $7.8 million to lower the Interstate 5/Highway 99 overcrossing, $25 million for pavement preservation of 21 miles on Interstate 5 from south of the Twisselman Road overcrossing to the Kern/Kings County line and nearly $32 million to upgrade curb ramps, sidewalks, bike lanes and more in the area of Hickory and Brundage lanes.
One of the funded projects Gonzales is most excited for is improvements to Bernard Street between Jefferson Park and Union Avenue, which he said is something that has been strongly needed. "That area needs a lot of work," he said.
For Delano Mayor Pro-Tem Grace Vallejo, the funding is a godsend for the growing community. She said the town’s roads have been in rough shape for a long time and that the city hasn’t had enough funding to do much more than patch jobs.
“With this funding, we can complete projects this 2017-18 fiscal year that would usually take three to five years to do,” she said. “SB1 has been like a little miracle for us, and I’m sure that’s the feeling that all other cities are sharing as of this moment.
”Pope said the state funding comes at a much-needed time for Kern County, as roads have degraded and projects have gotten more expensive over the years.“The last gas tax increase was in 1993, and we haven’t had one since,” he said. “What we’ve seen is that the cost of construction has more than tripled over that time frame. Costs have been going up and there’s not enough money coming in. We’re doing less every year.
”With this new funding, Pope said, the county has a chance to focus on roads it hasn’t done anything with in a long time.
“Our goal ... is to reach out and touch some of those roads that we haven’t touched in 20 years,” he said. “We’re talking about getting into neighborhoods and local streets. Local streets, residential areas are getting rebuilt because this money’s going to start flowing.
”Pope said one of the projects already under way thanks to the funding is improvements for parts of Palm Street, Jewetta Avenue and Shellabarger Road.
“If we didn’t have this money coming to us, we wouldn’t be doing this project,” he said.
The funding in the bill is being paid for through several fee and tax increases. There will be a 12-cent-per-gallon gas tax increase starting Nov. 1. There will also be a diesel fuel excise tax increase of 20 cents per gallon and a 4 percent diesel sales tax increase.
There will also be an increase in yearly vehicle registration fees starting January 2018, which can range from $25 to $175 depending on the vehicle. Drivers of zero-emission vehicles will be required to pay a $100 annual fee for maintenance and repair starting in 2020.
Vallejo said she’s happy that measures have been put in place at the state level to make sure the new funding is only spent on road repairs. An auditor will be appointed to watch over spending. In addition, there will be a proposition on the 2018 ballot requiring that the funding only be used for transportation purposes.
“We want to make sure that we get it. We also want to make sure that it’s not caught up in bureaucratic red tape,” she said. “SB1 was one of the best things that could have happened to the State of California, especially since all drivers are going to be assured that this money is going to go where it’s supposed to go. Let’s move forward and fix those roads.”