LOST HILLS, Calif. (KGET) — They used to call Highway 46 “Blood Alley,” but that was before most of it got widened to four lanes. And now the few places that are still two lanes are about to become four as well, making “Blood Alley” safer still.
If you’ve driven Highway 46 — the east-west state route connecting Highway 99 in Kern County to Highway 1 on the Central Coast you recognize the Lost Hills oil field. It’s the last stretch of Highway 46 on the Kern side of the county line that hasn’t been widened and separated by a median.
Well, here come the bulldozers.
The state of California is making good on its plan to widen the entire 60-mile portion of 46 between Interstate 5 and Highway 101 from two lanes to four.
And the last section within Kern County is here — just west of Lost Hills — through the actual town, 19,000 and change, across the California Aqueduct, and through the Lost Hills oil lease, where Chevron and Aera have a presence.
Former state Sen. Dean Florez, the Democrat from Shafter, now a commissioner on the California Air Resources Board, has been pushing this project since a particularly brutal high-profile accident occurred on the route in 1999, when he was a state assemblyman.
“It’s been an ongoing push for many years,” he said. “Lots of bipartisanship in this. Everyone from (Republican Congressmen) Bill Thomas (and) Kevin McCarthy (to) myself.
“But I think this last piece was really important because as the state … (transitions) to other places and other types of modes of transportation, this is going to be one of the last pieces.”
Florez, who credits Kern COG Director Ahron Hakimi for writing the successful funding proposal, said the three-mile, $10 million project will get underway early next year and should be complete by the end of 2021.
On the San Luis Obispo side of the county line, they’re doing their part as well.
Widening of Antelope Grade, the steep descent just west of the Kern County line, has been funded to the tune of $70 million. Work starts in fall 2022.
The dangerous Y-intersection where Highway 41 splits from 46 in the direction of Fresno will be getting an elevated ramp and flyover bridge — with work starting in winter 2023. It’s a $98 million job.
And a five-mile stretch of 46 near Cholame near where movie star James Dean was killed in 1955 will be widened to four lanes at a cost of $55 million — with work starting this winter.
The San Luis Obispo County economy, especially with the explosion of wineries, has benefited greatly from this long and sometimes difficult undertaking.
For that, they can thank, among many others, Florez.
“It was a very good day for Highway 46, for the people that travel, obviously, to our coast,” Florez said, “which is the Central Coast.”
It might seem like work on Highway 46 has moved along at a snail’s pace, but over the last two decades, there have been some real improvements. Persistence has paid off. Somewhere up there James Dean must be looking down and smiling.