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Casey Christie / The Californian

Vehicles including a GET bus and cyclist travel east on 24th Street near Oak Street and east of Highway 99 in this file photo.

The city's plan to widen 24th Street and improve its intersections with Oak Street and Highway 99 would require demolishing 23 single-family homes regardless of which path is taken through its historic downtown, according to an environmental impact report released this week.

Members of the public will have an opportunity to comment on the EIR during a public hearing at the Jan. 16th Bakersfield Planning Commission meeting.

That's when planning commissioners will consider recommending the Bakersfield City Council certify the EIR.

The city council will have to certify the EIR before the project can move forward.

The report also determines that the changes, which include expanding 23rd and 24th streets from three lanes in each direction to four between D and M streets by eliminating 293 street parking spaces, and from two to three lanes in each direction between D and Olive streets by widening the road, would result in "(a) permanent increase in ambient noise level."

City Manager Alan Tandy said the city would lower the traffic noise by building sound walls.

There's also the possibility, the EIR warns, of "substantial adverse changes to a historical resource, the district south of 24th Street."

Still unclear is exactly how improvements will be made to 24th Street between Olive and D Streets, where two alternatives exist. Both would involve residents giving up portions of their land or homes.

Alternative 1 would take land along the north side of 24th Street, and is the option the city recommends. It would require acquisitions of 23 single-family homes, 14 partial residential acquisitions, 12 non-residential acquisitions, and three vacant buildings.

Alternative 2 would take land along the south side of 24th Street, nearer homes in the city's historic downtown and "tree street" areas. It also would require taking 23 single-family homes and three vacant buildings, as well as seven partial residential acquisitions and 11 non-residential acquisitions.

Other changes that are part of the $49.5 million Thomas Roads Improvement Program project include improving the 24th Street on-ramp to Highway 99 south, adding a northbound auxiliary lane to Highway 99 south of 24th Street, and improving virtually all approaches to the intersection of Oak and 24th streets -- but taking nearly 1 acre of Beach Park land closest to traffic lanes to do it.

Construction is estimated to begin 18 months after the EIR is approved, if it is.

Tandy said there is probably no controversy-free way to widen 24th Street.

"There were several reasons for the northern alternative being picked. One reason is, it impacted a less-historically significant area. There was also a safety issue, because there are driveways on the north side that would be eliminated," Tandy said. "There was a slight cost alternative as well."

He estimated the cost difference between the two options at less than $1 million, and said 11 residential driveways would be eliminated if Alternative 1 is built, which city officials believe would improve traffic safety.

But one downtown resident who lives south of 24th Street said that regardless of traffic safety, either alternative will adversely affect life in her neighborhood.

"We feel we'll be getting the short end of the alternative stick," said A Street resident Vanessa Vangel, who thinks losing so much downtown parking will cost the business community dearly. "There has to be another way. I understand it would probably be more expensive, but for the sake of preserving our historic neighborhood and our property values and our health."

Spruce Street resident Dominique Minaberrigarai declined to discuss the EIR because he hadn't seen it yet, but said he and his neighbors will want the city to close their block to through-traffic regardless of which alternative is built.

"Our thing is, regardless of whether it's two lanes of traffic or three, we still get cutthrough traffic and speeding traffic," Minaberrigarai said. "We would continue to want a cul-de-sac."