It's still under construction, but the Westside Parkway's next segment from Allen to Heath roads is already being condemned by neighbors who say the project won't provide sufficient soundwalls to guard adequately against noise, pollution and accidents.
More than a dozen residents who live immediately southwest of Allen Road and the Westside Parkway say this part of that freeway should be built below ground level, like much of the rest of the project.
Homeowners also say that during community meetings on the new freeway Bakersfield officials promised to insulate them from traffic noise .
Now they're distributing fliers urging their fellow homeowners to attend a 5 p.m. meeting March 2 at the corner of Jenkins Road and Via La Madera to discuss a mass descent on two upcoming local government meetings: the March 5 Bakersfield City Council and March 11 Kern County Board of Supervisors conclaves.
"Nobody came to our doors and said, 'Hey, we're going to promise you this,' but that was the public announcement that they made to us," said Pam Binns, an eight-year homeowner on Via La Madera just west of Jenkins Road. "My deal is that the project needs to continue the way that it was sold to us and if they can't finish the project the way it was supposed to be finished, they need to wait until they have the funds to finish it properly."
Binns said she was in escrow on her house when she learned of plans for the parkway extension, and was under the impression based on research and conversations with neighbors that the area would be getting 14- to 16-foot soundwalls.
Kern County Supervisor David Couch said Friday afternoon a soundwall isn't out of the question.
SOUNDWALL NOT REQUIRED
City officials say the Westside Parkway is being finished properly. They say money isn't the issue here.
A federally required noise study done in July 2010 is. It found Westside Parkway wouldn't generate enough noise -- even after being connected to Highway 58 -- to justify building a soundwall on county land northeast of Jenkins Road and San Simeon Avenue.
As a result, soundwalls along the south side of the parkway stop at Jenkins Road. On the north side, they shield two housing developments northeast of the parkway's future intersection with Renfro Road.
"We've been up front on all issues. There were no walls promised that were removed (from the plans later in the process)," said City Manager Alan Tandy. "We even, just before construction, went back and did the sound study based on the assumption that we had completed the Centennial Corridor and it was Highway 58."
Centennial Corridor is the controversial proposed connection farther east, between Westside Parkway and Highway 58.
Representatives of the Thomas Roads Improvement Program, which oversees construction of the Westside Parkway and other major city roads, say soundwalls were a possibility raised during meetings in 2004 and 2005 -- but never guaranteed.
A December 2004 TRIP map titled "Noise Measurement, Modeling, And Considered Soundwall Locations" showed possible future soundwalls located on the freeway segment's north side, shielding houses immediately northeast of the Westside Parkway and Renfro Road, and another development farther east.
On the south side, continuous lines indicated soundwalls extending all the way from Renfro Road to Jenkins Road, then turning south on the east side of Jenkins and east again all the way to Allen Road.
NOT A FINAL DETERMINATION
But that was a preliminary study.
TRIP civil engineer Luis Topete said the July 2010 Noise Study Report done to satisfy Federal Highway Administration requirements showed houses on the north side of San Simeon Avenue east of Jenkins Road were far enough from the parkway that soundwalls were not required.
The study was done a few months after construction began on the parkway in Spring 2010.
A Rosedale-Rio Bravo Water Storage District water recharge area runs east of Allen Road along the south side of the parkway through much of the area between Allen and Jenkins roads.
Topete said this further distances the parkway from those residents.
"That (area) is in between those houses and the freeway. They're a good 300 feet away at the shortest distance," Topete said.
The distance provided by this water recharge area helps account for the study's projections that sound from the parkway would be between 60 and 65 decibels for San Simeon Avenue residents between Jenkins and Allen roads.
All are below a federal requirement mandating sound levels be at least 67 decibels to get a soundwall.
That means San Simeon Avenue residents don't get a soundwall.
The presence of the water recharge area also explains why the freeway has to be at grade -- or at ground level -- west of Allen Road.
RESIDENTS NOT PLEASED
These aren't exactly soothing words to homeowners who work nights and say vibrations from road graders make sleeping during the day like getting a massage from a Magic Fingers motel bed.
When the $29.9 million construction of this next parkway segment is finished in early 2015, residents say privacy in their houses and backyard barbecues -- even open windows -- will be history.
"From Allen's kitchen, from my kitchen, anybody on that side can see right in," said San Simeon Avenue resident Kristen Cimental, referencing five-year resident Allen Clark, who works nights and has trouble sleeping through construction.
On Tuesday, in addition to construction to the east, work crews will be placing concrete barriers along the north side of Stockdale Highway between Heath and Renfro roads. The barriers will go in from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
East of Jenkins Road, backyard fences and the water district land are the only barriers between San Simeon Avenue homeowners and the future Highway 58.
Proximity to the Westside Parkway extension worries even homeowners west of Jenkins Road who did get a soundwall.
"Our whole house shakes. I'm pretty concerned with what it's going to be like when the road's back there. It sure doesn't feel very solid to me," said Via La Madera resident Brian Barrick, who is not happy about construction noise. "I've measured (sound) out of my back door and it's been up to 90 decibels. I'm just a layman, I'm just a person, but it sounded to me like the sound got louder once the wall went up."
Public Works Director Raul Rojas said building a half-mile soundwall from Jenkins Road east to Allen Road could cost easily half a million dollars.
But help could be on the way, Couch said Friday. The county supervisor said he's heard from two area residents and a solution is possible.
Details are scarce so far, including where the money would come from.
"I've been in touch with the county administrative officer, I've been in touch with the roads commissioner. And I've been in touch with the TRIP team and the public works director and I'm cautiously optimistic that we're going to be able to alleviate or at least mitigate their concerns," Couch said.