It’s a tale of two stations.
Bakersfield, California’s ninth-largest city in terms of population with more than 380,000 residents, is trying to decide where to put a bullet-train station. This battle has lasted for years.
First, a geography lesson.
The city can be roughly divided into five zones — central, southeast, northeast, northwest, and southwest. U.S. Highway 99 cuts the city into east and west and the Kern River (yes, it really is a river; this year there was water) divides north and south.
The downtown core, which is a small area from Truxtun Avenue heading north and California Avenue, has about 68 percent of the region’s office space.
Central Bakersfield, not surprisingly, is the city’s center. It’s the area east and west of U.S. Highway 99 between State Routes 204 and 58, which the city currently is expanding to relieve traffic heading into downtown.
The original station location, approved by a city council resolution in 2003 and by the High Speed Rail Authority in 2014, is in Central Bakersfield along Truxtun Avenue.
Two studies posted on Kern County’s Council of Governments website say Truxtun Avenue is the preferred location. However, the regional government group also gave $150,000 to the city so it can develop plans for the downtown area in preparation of the high speed rail station — wherever it’s located.
The Truxtun station would be located near the existing Amtrak station and bus transfer. It is within walking distance of the city’s attractions – the Rabobank Arena Theater and Convention Center, the McMurtrey Aquatics Center, the library, and county and city buildings. The Greyhound Bus stop is a mile away.
The downtown core, which is a small area from Truxtun Avenue heading north and California Avenue, has about 68 percent of the region’s office space, according to veteran transportation consultant Adam Cohen, who does not have a client in the dispute
But the city’s preferred station location isn’t Truxtun Avenue any more, following the city’s adoption of a second resolution this month that withdrew Truxtun as the preferred site.
The council opposed the Truxtun Avenue station because it would take out the city’s corporation yard and police vehicle maintenance facility, in addition to eliminating all the parking spaces for one of the city’s proudest accomplishments, the Rabobank Arena Theater and Convention Center.
Instead, the preferred site may be about two miles north of Truxtun, at F Street and Route 204, known locally as the Golden State Highway.
Much of Bakersfield’s downtown is already zoned for high-density or high-rise buildings.
A shopping center that includes Dollar Tree and Smart and Final is currently south of that intersection, which has a traffic signal. Less than one mile away is the Bakersfield Department of Motor Vehicles, Bakersfield Elks Lodge, the Kern County Museum and the regional transportation service, Golden Empire Transit, known as GET Bus.
Jacqui Kitchen, the Bakersfield Community Development Director, said the F Street station is surrounded by several “underutilized lots that represent an opportunity for development.”
She also noted that said the track alignment for a station at F Street would impact less residential homes and is cheaper than a station at Truxtun Avenue.
Using funding from city and regional sources, Kitchen said they have been working on developing plans for Bakersfield’s downtown in preparation for the eventual arrival of the high speed rail. A map of Bakersfield’s downtown and where the city is focusing redevelopment efforts can be viewed as a PDF here.
Before the City Council voted on its most recent resolution, Kitchen showed the council members a video of consultants showing downtown Bakersfield’s growth in 10, 20 and 30 years.
Much of Bakersfield’s downtown is already zoned for high-density or high-rise buildings, Kitchen said, and all the city needs to do is “give a clear direction to developers that the city supports this kind of development.”
Earlier this year, the City Council added to its council goals doubling the population living downtown by 2030.
Houses in Westchester can sell for as much as $775,000, though prices seem to drop to around $200,000 in the northern area close to Route 204.
A draft environmental impact study said the cost difference between the two station alignments would be about $206 million, with Truxtun Avenue costing more. The city’s preferred alignment would lower the number of homes affected from 384 units to 86 units.
But some residents insist putting the high speed rail location at Truxtun Avenue just makes more sense.
Terry Maxwell is a former city councilman who served one term and who’s opposed other transportation projects in Bakersfield. Most notably, he’s gone against the city on its lane expansion for 24th Street to ease traffic heading east to Route 178 or west to Rosedale Highway. This project has caused the relocation or demolishment of almost 20 homes.
The city’s preferred station at F Street would put it in Maxwell’s neighborhood, known as Westchester.
Houses in Westchester can sell for as much as $775,000, though prices seem to drop to around $200,000 in the northern area close to Route 204, according to Zillow.com.
A station at Truxtun would benefit the businesses downtown and keep noise in Westchester at a minimum – they already have the 24th Street to deal with, Maxwell told the City Council before it passed its resolution supporting the F Street alignment.
Meanwhile, Cohen said the F Street station goes against best practices, the Authority’s own guidelines for placing a station and is too far away from downtown.
He also said the track alignment heading into Bakersfield would impact more farmland as it cuts from Shafter across to U.S Highway 99, thus not following existing transportation lines as the Authority tries to do. He said the elevated tracks for the F Street station will range in height from 67 to 80 feet tall. It’ll cast a shadow on Old Town Kern, Cohen said, and pass directly in front of such historic buildings as the Pyrenees Cafe and Noriega Hotel.
“At the end of the day, high-speed rail is great, but we’ll only receive these benefits if it’s walkable versus taking a car or Uber,” Cohen said, comparing the Authority’s original preferred station location to the city’s. “If it’s going to be here for a long time, let’s build it right the first time,” Cohen said.
The Authority is currently seeking local public comments until Jan. 16.
Ed’s Note: This is the second of two parts. Part I can be seen here.