Millions of dollars per year will soon become available for improvements to Bakersfield’s roads as the Thomas Roads Improvement Program winds down.
City officials had initially believed that the city would need to issue $246 million in bonds to help fund the project, but with bids in for the last piece of TRIP, the city recently announced that no bonds will be issued. Funds that had previously been set aside to pay off the bonds will now be available to improve some of the city’s oldest streets and synchronize the city’s traffic signals.
“It’s kind of the opposite of the high-speed rail story, or the traditional belief about government projects,” said City Manager Alan Tandy. “The costs didn’t go up, they went down.”
He noted that 90 percent of the TRIP projects were delivered for less than the proposed budget.
“It’s good to be in that position,” he said. “On April 10, we’ll have all the contracts awarded and be on the downhill slope.”
The road to finishing the 12-year TRIP projects without bonds has been a long one for the city.
To bolster the $630 million federal earmark secured by Rep. Bill Thomas in 2006, the city aggressively pursued state and federal grants, receiving $169 million in one six-month period.
What it couldn’t get in grants, local partnerships with Kern County, Kern Council of Governments and Caltrans helped fully fund the project, which is ultimately expected to cost $1.4 billion.
Local funds from three sources – the gas tax, fees applied to new developments and a utility surcharge – helped make up where the partnerships and grants fell short.
But now that the city's lowest bid on the final phase of the Centennial Corridor Project has been accepted for $7.5 million less than the engineer’s estimate, the risk that bonds will need to be used is no longer present.
And the $18 million per year that would have been used to pay off the bonds over the next 30 years will instead be used to fix city streets.
“It helps out significantly,” said Public Works Director Nick Fidler. “It allows us to do a lot of the smaller projects.”
From widening some of the most frequently congested roads to repaving crumbling pavement, Fidler said a wide assortment of projects will see the benefit of the unanticipated revenue.
The city has already begun speculating that the additional funds could be used to build a 1.5-mile extension of the northern end of Hageman Road to Golden State Avenue.
As TRIP construction finishes, even more projects could be started to improve the city’s streets.