The crab-like paving machine moved westward at a slow crawl, pressing the concrete dumped into its path by an endless progression of trucks into a pristine 25-foot wide, six-inch thick slab of concrete freeway base.
The machine and its crew of workers on Monday were finishing the first section of pavement on a new east-west freeway that has been built in Bakersfield since work on Highway 58 was completed in 1976. They were paving the northern two lanes of the new six-lane Westside Parkway from Coffee Road to Calloway Drive.
Since paving began this past Thursday, the team has paved more than a mile of road.
Over the next coming weeks, construction crews will push west past Jewetta Avenue to Allen Road, turn around, and on the south side of the route, pave 4.25 miles east to Mohawk Street. Another slow, methodical loop will add a third lane and a shoulder.
It will take about three to five weeks to finish the base layer of road.
The slab of "lean concrete" that crews are pouring will eventually sit under the separate, 10- to 13-inch-thick roadway commuters are expected to drive on by the end of the year, said city of Bakersfield engineer Luis Topete.
That layer will take about two to three months to complete, according to a memo from City Manager Alan Tandy to the Bakersfield City Council.
The concrete being laid now is actually designed to fracture, creating a more-flexible base for the thicker, rigid roadway that will sit on top of it, said Steve Badertscher, the project's resident engineer who is tasked with making sure the construction meets specifications.
While this first narrow strip of road decking is simply another in a long procession of construction steps that will lead to opening day for the Westside Parkway, city officials say it's a major milestone.
Topete said the day-to-day project grind of relocating sewer lines and moving earth to shape embankments is punctuated by the excitement he felt standing in what will be the center median of the new freeway as pavement is poured.
It has taken two years to get the east-west lanes of the freeway ready for this work, he said.
And the route from Truxtun Avenue to Heath Road, once known as the Kern River Freeway, has been planned since the 1980s to deal with the traffic boom created as the city expanded explosively to the west.
Topete said the route will eventually be connected to Highway 58 with one of three mini-freeway alignments being considered right now by Caltrans officials, dubbed the Centennial Corridor.
And, while the freeway is currently only funded through its link to Allen Road, he said more state funding for an extension to Health Road is expected to be allocated this summer.
Adding a little more than seven miles of road out to Health and Stockdale Highway -- on the western edge of Bakersfield -- should handle the traffic demand until 2025, Topete said.
Eventually the route will be extended west from Heath Road to Interstate 5, creating a direct link between the major national east-west route of Interstate 40 and I-5.