The nighttime replacement of 1.8 miles of Shell crude oil pipeline in southwest Bakersfield, nearly half of it beneath northbound lanes of Gosford Road from White to Panama lanes, could begin as early as next week.
That would make the project nearly two weeks behind its original schedule, as revealed to residents and business owners in an Oct. 8 letter from Shell Pipeline Company LP, explaining it would start Oct. 26 and continue "through December."
But work may begin later still -- possibly not until after Veterans Day -- because as of Thursday, Shell still didn't have a signed contract with a subcontractor to help do the work, throwing a required pre-construction meeting Monday into doubt.
A Shell spokesman characterized its letter as an early warning to people who live and work near the affected area, so that anyone with an issue or a suggestion would have time to be heard before the digging begins, and said safety is the oil company's primary concern.
"That note doesn't necessarily mean that work was imminent. That means, for our stakeholders, we wanted to let them know, so for people who have some issues, we have a plan that is least disruptive for the neighborhood," said Shell Southern California Communications Manager Alan Caldwell. "The overall plan is to make sure no product ever leaves the pipe. Whatever happens, that will be the ultimate goal."
According to Shell's Oct. 8 letter -- which specified "starting construction on Saturday, October 26" -- work will be done from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m., so that when commuters retake the streets each morning, the trench somewhere in either the fast or middle lane of northbound Gosford will be covered by metal plates and driveable.
The pipeline's actual route, however, differs substantially from what residents and business owners were told, and this could be a good thing.
In its letter, Shell described the project's route as being "within Gosford Road and crossing Stockdale Highway, Ming Avenue, White Lane and Panama Lane."
Technically, that's true -- but city Construction Supervisor Steve Lesh said Shell only has permits to install the new pipeline in northbound Gosford, from just north of White Lane to just south of Panama Lane.
For most of the rest of its path, the pipeline will follow an intake canal for the Arvin-Edison Water Storage District before going under Stockdale Highway and the Kern River Parkway bike path. Neither Ming Avenue nor Stockdale Highway will be torn up, and it will avoid much of Gosford Road.
And the canal.
"We typically don't allow people to run parallel to our canal inside the right-of-way. We just don't want it on our property," said Arvin-Edison Engineer-Manager Steven Collup. "Then we'd go into the business of selling easements instead of water."
Shell Engineering Assistant Mike Gauthier confirmed the replacement pipeline will parallel the canal, but not on Arvin-Edison land.
The project's first phase, between Panama and White lanes, should be done this year, Gauthier said, and its second phase, from just north of White Lane to north of Stockdale Highway, will happen "sometime in late winter-early spring."
The pipeline it replaces will be "abandoned in place," filled with a mixture of cement and sand to ensure it never leaks, Lesh said.
"We're outside of their canal right-of-way. Some of it will be city, some of it will be private. We've already got right-of-way" approval, Gauthier said.
City vehicle counts show that while traffic on Gosford Road decreases slightly nearer the southern city limits, it is a much-used thoroughfare.
According to joint city-county numbers, an annual daily average of 34,550 motorists used Gosford last year, travelling in both directions between South Laurelglen Boulevard and White Lane.
Between Pacheco and Harris roads, a daily average of 30,570 motorists drove Gosford Road last year.
So far this year, 14,630 motorists have driven Gosford between Harris Road and Panama Lane.
"Once they get to South Laurelglen (Boulevard), and that work is in the canal right-of-way, people won't even know the work is going on," Lesh said, adding that South Laurel Glen Boulevard, Westwold Drive, Camino Media, and Kroll Way will have to be excavated where they intersect the pipeline.
According to Caldwell and the letter residents received, the middle and fast lanes of northbound Gosford, and possibly also the bike lane on that side, will be closed at night while crews work.
The actual trench for the 10-inch pipe will be a minimum of 4 feet deep, Gauthier said. Trenching will take place in the two vehicle lanes, and crews could use the bike lane if needed, Caldwell said.
"This will leave a 12-foot-wide traffic lane plus a 5-foot buffer around the construction area while work is occurring ... ," the letter said.
As workers excavate the northbound lanes, Caldwell said crews will utilize temporary soundwalls and sound-muffling blankets to keep the noise down so that residents can sleep.
Southbound Gosford Road will be unaffected, Caldwell said. He declined to reveal the project's cost, and the crude oil's origin or destination, saying this was proprietary information.
Colleen Dillaway, Cal State Bakersfield's spokeswoman, said she hadn't heard about the pipeline work, but was optimistic its replacement would go smoothly.
"Students and faculty certainly travel on Gosford Road to and from campus, but I'm hopeful that the powers that be at the city and the company ... communicate the changes and the work that's happening so that people can maneuver around it," Dillaway said.
Similarly, residents said they were concerned about their ability to get to and from work and church on time, but happy the work would be done during off hours.
"We shall see," said resident Art Garcia, who lives in the 8200 block of Sargent Way and received the Oct. 8 letter. "If it's not going to be interfering with traffic during rush hour, it's going to be OK."
Angela Russie didn't get a letter, but took the news in stride.
"That figures," she said. "It's kind of awkward this time of year. 'Cause it's holidays and everybody's out shopping."
And at Kern Christian Center, 4701 Gosford Road, congregation members attend services Wednesday nights just a few yards from where crews will be working -- but bookkeeper Heminee Salinas said they'll be finished before the jackhammers start.
"In the summer, people like to hang out, but not in the winter so much," Salinas said. "It probably wouldn't affect us, because our preschool doesn't open 'til 7."