Serving the community since 1970

Conch's Corner - Nov. 21, 2019

A plea to help fix ‘Blood Alley’

On Nov. 15, a group of us traveled to Fresno to testify at a hearing of the California Transportation Commission. I was in attendance with Councilmember Cathy Prout of Shafter and Councilmember Olivia Trujilo of Arvin. Also, in attendance was Ahron Hakami, who is the executive director of the Kern Council of Governments. We were there to testify about the importance of funding Highway 46 that Caltrans staff recommended be cancelled along with 2 other widening projects on Highway 99. The commission will meet in December, where we will get an update.

Below are the comments I made to the commission:

Madame Chair & Commissioners,

My name is David Couch, and I am the chairman of the Kern County Board of Supervisors.

Before I get into the heart of my comments, I’d like to place one statement on the record: The law requires that Caltrans consult with the CoGs (Councils of Government) before the draft ITIP is released. That consultation did not take place.

Thank you for the ITIP funding for a portion of Highway 46 -- known as “Blood Alley” because of the large number of fatalities on this route. The Wye project fixes a dangerous intersection at Highway 41 and 46 on an important goods movement corridor where James Dean was killed 64 years ago. Also, we would like to thank state agency staff for reaching out to us last week to further discuss Valley concerns.

State Route 46 is on the State Highway Freight Network and the National Highway System’s Strategic Highway Network.

As you know, people are dying every year on Highway 46. We maintain that holding funding for future projects that are not ready to go does nothing to alleviate this problem. There other projects on Blood Alley that are ready to go to construction, such as segment 4B in the disadvantaged community of Lost Hills, and this project leverages a large federal match.

I am honored to represent the disadvantaged communities in Lost Hills, Wasco, Delano, McFarland, Shafter, La Colonia, Buttonwillow, Lamont, Weedpatch and Arvin located at the crossroads of Central California.

These communities need jobs. Affordable, safe, clean goods movement helps generate badly needed jobs for these communities. In disadvantaged communities, one of the best ways to save a life, or provide quality healthcare, is to provide a job.

As a member of the Kern Council of Governments’ board of directors, I am here today to let you know that the draft ITIP still does NOT reflect Kern CoG‘s top priority, reaffirmed by a unanimous resolution provided to Caltrans staff in April of this year, which is to FINISH 46.

Segment 4B on Highway 46 is not just a widening; it will provide a more sustainable goods movement corridor that connects the Salinas Valley with an intermodal rail facility in Delano operated by Union Pacific. Shipping by rail is 10 times more energy efficient and creates 10 times less GHG (greenhouse gases) that shipping by truck but we need safer roads that connect these intermodal rail facilities.

Segment 4B on Highway 46 is a 5 mile safety widening project with bike and pedestrian improvements through the disadvantaged community of Lost Hills. This project leverages $17.5 million in federal BUILD grant funding. Another $33 million is still needed to complete the gap project by connecting two existing 4 lane segments. It also leverages a pedestrian overpass for Lost Hills, funded by the Wonderful Company and estimated cost of $4 million.

In the previous 2018 ITIP, a commitment to segment 4B was made on Page 29. Now that project has received one of only two federal BUILD grants to be awarded in California and the state has raised the gas tax, which impacts disadvantaged communities the most. The draft ITIP now puts these federal matching dollars at risk. And it does so for a “future unidentified rail project“ that is not ready to go, and supposedly for the sake of GHG.

Highway projects that make it easier and safer to ship goods by rail have a far greater potential for reducing GHG than passenger rail investment.

We implore you to please help us FINISH 46.

Any questions? Contact our office at 661-868-3680 or at [email protected].


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