BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — If you’ve been waiting anxiously to see the final results of the 24th Street widening project, more than three years in the making, circle this date: Oct. 2. That’s the day city transportation engineers expect the $42 million, six-lane arterial to be ready for prime time.
After three years of planning, lawsuits and actual construction, the project is virtually complete.
After Oct. 2, the arterial linking State Route 58 and the Rosedale section of Bakersfield to Highway 178 and east Bakersfield will basically need just three things: Workers will need to finish planting shrubs, sweep up, and program HAWK — that’s the nickname of the High Intensity Activated Crosswalk — a unique and some might say intimidating two-phase designated crossing area at Pine Street that requires pedestrians to take temporary refuge in a bollard-protected median. The long, narrow waiting area can accommodate a dozen pedestrians.
Bakersfield has been a tangle of freeway and surface street projects for four years now and there are many months to go — but thanks in a big way to former Congressman Bill Thomas, who brought $700 million home with him for road improvements on his way out of Washington, these streets will eventually be easier to manage.
The 24th Street widening project is one of the first highly visible undertakings to dip significantly into that pot of money — and have something navigable to show for it.
The project had its naysayers — still does — a group of downtown and Westchester residents who were unhappy that the city, they felt, was further dividing two historic neighborhoods, Westchester to the north and the older Jastro Park section of downtown to the south. Among their concerns — the removal of 20 homes on the Westchester side of 24th to make room for the widening.
Led by area resident Vanessa Vangel, the group sued the city to stop the project. Among the group’s allies was then-city councilman Terry Maxwell, also a resident of the area and the only dissenting voice on most council votes related to 24th Street. The group of dissenters won a few concessions but ultimately lost in court and, adding insult to injury, promptly received a legal bill from the city. At least the project opponents prevailed on that one.
Ravi Pudipeddi, the city’s project manager, visited the site Friday morning and got an update.
“We have beatified the area with plants and trees,” he said. “We have the barriers. It looks perfect.”
Pudipeddi says bridgework over the Kern River will be finished next week. The last of the low profile shrubs will be planted no later than Oct. 23. Landscapers will need to close a lane for safety’s sake while they apply that finishing touch. But that’s it.
“It’s going to be a smooth flow,” Pudipeddi said. “I hope so.”