Hwy. 46 widening project well under way in Lost Hills: Disruption in the name of traffic safety

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LOST HILLS, Calif. (KGET) – Maybe you’re one of those who’ve been waiting for a faster, safer way to get to San Luis Obispo County on State Route 46. Well, step by step, that’s happening.

The California Department of Transportation is making progress on the long-range project to make that east-west highway to Paso Robles faster and safer.

In fact, just two sections of about a mile each remain – one through a section of the Lost Hills oilfield, and the other, under way now, through the tiny little village of Lost Hills itself.

Residents of the company town, where the Wonderful Company employs hundreds – have mixed feelings about their heavily traveled two-lane main drag turning into a heavily traveled four lane highway. 

On the plus side, they’ll get a new pedestrian foot bridge, paid for by the Wonderful Company and already under construction, which will link the Lost Hills Park on the north side of Highway 46, to the south side, where the Wonderful Academy is located. 

On the negative side, however, they fear they’ll see more speed, more automobile accidents and tougher access to businesses along the route. Gabby’s, a Mexican restaurant probably familiar to many weekend seabirds, has had a tough time during construction.

“Nah, nothing good,” said Gabby’s cook Angel Hernandez. At least Gabby’s wasn’t leveled like Lalo’s Market next door. 

One of the residents’ bigger concerns, however, is that the widening will require Caltrans to make major modifications to the town’s sewer system. And the townfolk must pay for it, to the tune of $484,000. Vidal Ballesteros, who owns VB Truck and Diesel, right there on 46, is right in the middle of it. He’s also the president of the Lost Hills Utility District, and he says Caltrans is trying to help facilitate a low-interest loan for the district’s customers but, even with that, residents in this town where many earn close to minimum wage could see their water bills jump by $25 a month.

“A lot of changes … are happening,” Ballesteros said. “I know the Wonderful Company is involved in building a bunch of new homes. They’re helping the town grow, but as it grows, then you have more issues come up.”

Ballesteros is hoping that the low-interest loan turns into a grant. That’s what he’s working toward now with Caltrans, even as the work on the new sewer line commences.

But all of this is good news for those who head to the coast on a regular basis. The Lost Hills bottleneck will be gone by Spring 2023, when this work is completed, and the last remaining bottleneck, at the oil field, will be widened the year after. 

What about the San Luis Obispo County side of the county border? Antelope Grade is the biggest challenge, and Caltrans has earmarked $80 million to bypass it – $80 million it doesn’t have yet. Former Congressman Bill Thomas to the rescue, perhaps. That’s according to Ahron Hakimi of Kern Council of Governments, the local transportation planning agency. Hakimi said he and Thomas are meeting Tuesday with top officials from Caltrans and neighboring counties to pitch a $10 million interim solution – a widening project that Hakimi says will pay for itself in safety.

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