In the Oct. 18 Californian, a letter titled “Why do seniors matter less than roads?” was printed. The author was commenting on the Community Voices piece (“Save senior, disabled transportation services in Bakersfield,” Oct. 17). The original article lauded the fact that GET and NOR Parks & Recreation District are cooperatively exploring transfer of the senior, disabled transit service in metropolitan Bakersfield from NOR to GET. The letter suggests overruns similar to those being seen on the High Speed Rail project are happening on our community’s No. 1 freeway project, while criticizing the need and collaborative effort to find a new service provider for senior and disabled transit.
Just to clarify, federal funds are not used to fund the operation of senior and disabled transit, but is funded from a portion of a one-fourth cent state sales tax expressly raised for this purpose and the fare collected from users of the transit service. Transferring federal funds for a freeway project to local service would not be allowed nor an appropriate use of the gasoline tax dollars collected to fix and finish our roads.
In addition, the Westside Parkway Freeway from Stockdale Highway at Heath Road to Truxtun Avenue was completed by 2015 for less than $200 million. The next phase of the project is connecting the Westside Parkway to Highway 99. The city of Bakersfield was planning to bond for up to $200 million of the $500 million for right-of-way and construction to complete the connection. Fortunately, the region’s innovative partnership known as the Thomas Roads Improvement Program (TRIP), named for the former Congressman Bill Thomas who got the funding for us, applied, and won a competitive federal grant and combined other sources for the additional $200 million.
The city did not have to borrow a dime for the project, resulting in a potential $400 million savings when counting bond interest saved. The current freeway connector linking the Westside Parkway freeway to Highway 99 is now under construction and is anticipated to be completed by 2023 on time and on budget. As with senior and disabled transit needs, our community does what it takes to find innovative ways to meet all our transportation needs.
Bob Smith is Bakersfield's Ward 4 councilman and chairman of Kern Council of Governments.