BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — You’ve no doubt noticed that monolithic freeway overpass at 99 and Stockdale Highway – an overpass to nowhere, at the moment, but not for long. The Centennial Corridor project is entering the home stretch: Literally, the last 800 feet of the home stretch. That doesn’t mean this is going to be done anytime soon. It’ll take another eight months to cover that 800 feet.

But the Centennial Corridor – with its team of city engineers, private contractors and subcontractors, along with direction and input from Thomas Roads Improvement Project managers and Caltrans — has never been more visible. In fact the six-story high connector bridge looming over Freeway 99 is impossible to miss.

When it’s complete, State Route 58 and eastern Kern County will be directly connected to the Westside Parkway and ultimately Interstate 5. No more bottleneck at Bakersfield. And the nation’s interstate freeway system will be a step closer to a goal that dates back to the Eisenhower administration — linking the Atlantic coast of North Carolina to the Pacific Ocean by way of Interstate 40. As it stands the 2,500-mile route terminates at Barstow where, per the original Eisenhower plan, it veers south to L.A. as I-15.

The Centennial Corridor project – initially financed to the tune of nearly three-quarters of the billion dollars with the help of former Congressman Bill Thomas – will bring the nation’s freeway system one step closer to that goal.

The improved interface of Highways 58 and 99 will help achieve that.

“The main project that we’re talking about is the Centennial Corridor but it’s comprised of four different phases,” said Gilbert Vega, an Engineer II for the city of Bakersfield. “What we’re standing on right now are two projects, one called the Mainline and the other one called the Bakersfield Freeway Connector, The Bakersfield Freeway Connector is a few weeks away from getting completed. It consists of that loop ramp westbound to southbound 99 and everything associated with the Ming offramp, southbound Ming offramp.”

Why is this portion of the project taking so long, you may ask. Because as David Millineaux, who works for one of the project’s subcontractors, says, this isn’t simply about laying down concrete.

“There’s four stem walls so we’re gonna have three sockets in there and the stem wall is gonna carry the cable that makes the bridge flex,” he said. “The bridge has to have flex or else the concrete will crack. And right here is a hinge. So if you look at this other bridge over there, it’s not going to connect, they’re going to rest on top of each other, so there’s not going to be a mechanical connection except for a couple bolts.”

Among the benefits of the Centennial Corridor according to Project Manager Ravi Pudipeddi – fewer vehicle emissions.

“Oh definitely,” he said. “It’s going to cut down the route – people having to drive longer to access the Westside Parkway. Now they have a direct connection from northbound 99 to Westside Parkway. So, yeah, it’s definitely going to reduce the number of vehicle miles traveled and thereby reducing the emissions.”

The southbound Ming Avenue exit is due to open this month after a long closure, but it will look different. In order to separate them from cars merging from the new eastbound connector onto southbound 99, motorists will have to commit to taking the Ming offramp north of Stockdale Highway – more than a mile before they actually exit. But that creates another problem – how to keep cars exiting at Stockdale Highway safely apart from cars getting in line to exit farther down at Ming. That’s why Caltrans wants to permanently close the Stockdale exit. City officials oppose that – they want to maintain direct freeway access to Cal State Bakersfield, Mercy Southwest Hospital and the Park at Riverwalk and an important developing commercial corridor.

When all is said and done, the project – technically four projects rolled into one – will have taken 15 years and cost $1.5 billion – half it from that initial funding procured by Bill Thomas, much of the rest from matching and additional funds made possible by that original funding. The Centennial Corridor project should be complete by next July, August, September – somewhere in there.