Developers of the Amazon distribution center under construction next to Meadows Field Airport are being required to carry out a number of substantial improvements to nearby roadways, plus pay $1.4 million into a regional transportation fund to help minimize the project's impact on local traffic.
The roadwork, detailed in public documents provided this week by Kern County officials, include new turning lanes, traffic signals and street widening along 7th Standard Road and Merle Haggard Drive, not only near the project's location near Highway 65 but, in some instances, further west by Coffee Road and Calloway Drive as well.
The construction represents the Amazon project's government-ordered obligation to contribute to broader, regional efforts to make sure Kern's growing warehousing and logistics industry does not end up clogging local thoroughfares with tractor-trailers carrying consumer goods in and out of the area. Regional planners continue to seek money for a traffic study that could lead to additional improvements to the area's transportation infrastructure.
The Amazon center's traffic-related obligations have not been without controversy. Caltrans wrote a letter to the county in April that takes issue with the traffic impact study on which the project's transportation-improvement requirements were based.
In that letter, a Caltrans planner criticized the report's estimate of how much truck traffic Amazon's project would contribute along highways 99 and 65. She also stated the center's scope should have been more clearly identified in the report.
County officials defended their work by email, saying they used standard calculations and that the report did clearly identify the project's scope. Moreover, county Planning Director Lorelei Oviatt asserted the situation should be addressed as a regional issue, not on a project-by-project basis.
"The impacts to that intersection have been impacted by other projects well before this one was permitted," she wrote.
"The project has completed its environmental review over a year ago and is in construction," she continued. "If there are regional issues for the state highway system, I am confident that Caltrans, Kern COG (Council of Governments), the City of Shafter (which also hosts distribution centers), the City of Bakersfield and the county are looking at them. The area is far from built out yet."
To be clear, the traffic obligations do not lie directly with Amazon, the Seattle-based e-commerce giant that still has not publicly acknowledged the center it is building on the north side of Merle Haggard Drive.
Rather, from the county's perspective, the roadwork is the responsibility of the development partnership that owns the surrounding industrial park: C&C Properties Inc., JEC Panama LLC and Landstone Cos. LLC.
Not including the $1.4 million they must pay into the Metropolitan Bakersfield Transportation Impact Fees fund, here is a list of traffic-related improvements the county ordered the partners to perform, as spelled out in a county notice of decision dated June 21, 2018:
● Give the county control of three thoroughfares running through the surrounding industrial center: Petrol Road, Landings Way and Wings Way.
● Put in curbs, gutters, sidewalks and other improvements along each of those three thoroughfares.
● Install traffic signals at the intersections of Landings Way and Merle Haggard Drive, Wings Way and Merle Haggard Drive and Wings Way and Petrol Road.
● Widen the north and south sides of 7th Standard Road between Coffee Road and Cawelo Drive to allow three lanes of traffic.
● Build a northbound right-turn lane on Coffee Road onto 7th Standard Road.
● Construct a southbound receiving lane on Coffee Road south of 7th Standard Road to accommodate a westbound left-turn lane.
● Create a northbound right-turn lane on Calloway Drive onto 7th Standard Road.
● Extend a southbound receiving lane on Calloway Drive south of 7th Standard Road for an additional westbound left-turn lane.
● Pay about 12 percent of the cost of providing an eastbound right-turn lane on Merle Haggard Drive at Industry Parkway Drive.
● Pay 2.5 percent of the cost of installing westbound and eastbound lanes on Merle Haggard Drive between Highway 99's and Highway 65's on- and offramps.
● Pay almost 12 percent of the cost of widening Merle Haggard Drive between Pegasus Drive and Wings Way — or an equivalent amount for an alternate route along Imperial Avenue.
● Pay 30 percent of the cost of providing a westbound left, northbound right and overlapping northbound-southbound right lanes at the Merle Haggard Drive and highway 99 and 65 on- and offramps.