Hwy 58 project: 'important piece of the transportation puzzle'

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) - The next big freeway project will fill in a puzzle piece for the local highway system. That's the view of transportation engineers, as they get ready to launch the Highway 58 Gap Closure Project.

The Bakersfield City Council was set to approve the $14 million contract for the project at their Wednesday night meeting.

The work will add one lane in each direction on Highway 58 from about Highway 99 to Cottonwood Road. Right now that stretch of almost three miles is only two lanes each way.

"For some reason, that was how it was done back in the day when it was built," engineer Luis Topete told Eyewitness News. "So, now we're closing the gap."

It's a gap because to the east, there are three lanes in each direction. And, Topete said three lanes are needed even more at the west end, because it's in the city center and has more traffic.

Topete is with the Thomas Roads Improvement Project. He said the 58 project will also include widening four bridges where the freeway passes over city streets and train tracks. There will also be work on the H Street westbound on-ramp.

Highway 58 gets a lot of merging traffic in this area, and Oscar Ayala said that's why his brother got into an accident just last week near Union Avenue.

"He was getting on behind a diesel, and got into the left lane," Ayala explained. "And then he passed the diesel, and the car in front of the diesel was still trying to get on, and then jumped right into his lane and swerved him off the road."

Ayala said he likes the idea of getting one more lane to work with.

Topete said the new lanes will go into the center median area. He said the money comes from federal funding, with a city match. Though in this case, the city match will be borrowed from some remaining federal earmark funds.

Darlene Lyburtus said she drives Hwy. 58 every day, and she looks forward to the widening project.

"I think it's a pretty good idea," she told Eyewitness News. "There's a lot more people in Bakersfield now, and the freeways are getting more congested."

Highway 58 dead-ends at Real Road. Eventually, the planned Centennial Corridor project is supposed to continue the transportation link. So, how does the new project fit into the next one?

"In a way, it's part of the Centennial Corridor in the future," Topete said. Adding more lanes to the dead-end freeway will mesh with the next project.

"We can wait, and do it all together with Centennial," Topete said. "But if the design is already there, it doesn't make any sense to just wait."

He said Caltrans designed the 58 Gap Closure project, the city is administering it. Topete said construction is set to start by about October, and will take a year to complete.

"It's a very important piece of the transportation puzzle here," Topete said. "At the end, it will be a great project."