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City of Wasco, Rail Authority, reach disagreement over 6th Street closure

Posted at 5:37 PM, Sep 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-02 21:25:25-04

WASCO, Calif. — On Tuesday night the Wasco City Council made a decision that affects a part of the High Speed Rail Construction process. The news comes weeks after the city spoke out against the Rail Authority in August. The latest challenge, city officials say, involves a plan for a road closure that’s officials have been negotiating for the past four years.

“Wasco is the only community in Kern County where the High Speed Rail Authority is going to be navigating the entire length of our city limits," said Wasco City Manager Daniel Ortiz-Hernandez.

Back in 2016, the city manager says California High Speed Rail Authority agreed on a plan to build the rail without closing down key roads servicing the city’s industrial eastern corridor. But a year later in 2017, he says the rail authority came back to the council asking to amend that plan and close 6th Street after all. The city agreed to it on the condition that a written agreement between both parties is executed.

“It’s been over three years and we have no record of an agreement being executed," Ortiz-Hernandez said.

So last night at the virtual meeting, the Wasco City Council voted to reverse their 2017 decision and keep 6th Street open.
“Leaving open the possibility for preparing an agreement that would allow the authority to close 6th street providing that certain conditions are addressed," Ortiz-Hernandez said.

Those conditions, he says, include the rail authority addressing some of the challenges construction has posed to the city. Perhaps one of the largest having to do with a local labor housing complex that had to be abandoned due to noise concerns from the rail.

The complex must now be demolished at a cost about $5-6 million, and neither the city nor the Rail Authority believes they should pay for it. Ortiz-Hernandez says Wasco has been waiting to hear from the authority on how they will move forward.

“We’re going on almost a month, and we’ve had no word from them," he said.

23ABC reached out to the Rail Authority for comment. They responded with a statement.

"After several local business owners expressed concerns over the construction of an underpass at 6th street negatively impacting their businesses, the authority and its contractor worked on finding a solution and presented a revised design to the Wasco city council in 2017," said Information Officer Toni Tinoco. "The new design would close 6th street and increase Poso Avenue from the original two-lane underpass to a four-lane underpass with a pedestrian sidewalk. The city council voted to approve the design change to mitigate potential impacts to local businesses."

Ortiz-Hernandez said the authority revised their design not to help local businesses, but because the revision came at a smaller construction cost to the authority. Just because negotiations appear to be at a standstill, the city manager says current construction of the rail will not be paused.