Highway 99 is the biggest conduit of vehicle traffic in Bakersfield -- and it's about to get even bigger.

Caltrans this week announced a major freeway widening project planned for a five-mile stretch of Highway 99 in south Bakersfield. The $31.1 million project will widen the freeway from six lanes to eight lanes from one-half mile south of Taft Highway to Wilson Road.

The money is part of nearly $1 billion allocated by the California Transportation Commission to fund 135 transportation projects statewide. Some $600 million in funding was provided by Proposition 1B, a transportation bond approved by voters in 2006. The remaining allocations came from assorted state and federal transportation accounts. In total, about $13.8 billion in Proposition 1B funds have been distributed statewide.

The local project is designed to reduce traffic congestion and keep vehicles moving smoothly and efficiently, said Caltrans spokesman Jose Camarena.

"That translates into time saved for motorists," Camarena said. "It's also fuel saved and carbon saved."

Millions of vehicles travel on Highway 99 through Bakersfield each year. And the sheer volume appears to be growing. In annual studies done on Highway 99 at the junction of Highway 46, the average daily vehicle count was 51,000 in 2009, according to Caltrans.

That traffic volume remained unchanged the following year, but last year the average daily traffic count jumped to 57,000 vehicles. Heavy trucks made up about one-quarter of the total.

The project is expected to begin in spring 2013 and should take about two years to complete, Camarena said.

The Highway 99 project is not the only local project on the Caltrans list. The transportation commission also has authorized $26 million for Phase 6 of the Westside Parkway project.

According to a release from the city of Bakersfield, the funds will allow the city to complete the final two miles of the Westside Parkway between Allen Road and Stockdale Highway at Heath Road.

Construction is expected to begin this fall, and will take close to two years to complete.

Construction on the Westside Parkway began in spring 2009 with the groundbreaking of the Mohawk Street Extension. The new 1.2-mile north-south arterial linked Rosedale Highway and Truxtun Avenue over the Kern River. The extension opened in June 2010, nearly eight months ahead of schedule, according to city officials.

More than five miles of freeway are under construction between Truxtun Avenue, near Highway 99, and Allen Road. Once complete, motorists will be able to enter and exit at Truxtun Avenue, Mohawk Street, Coffee Road, Calloway Drive and Allen Road. These phases of the Westside Parkway are expected to be completed later this year or in early 2013.

Caltrans officials say the projects are not just about convenience. Better roads and highways carry employees to work, goods to market and consumers to retail, recreation and entertainment centers -- all more efficiently.

"Proposition 1B continues to fund key transportation projects, which translates into a strengthened economy," Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty said in a statement. "Investing in our infrastructure will improve mobility and create a better future for Californians." HWY 99: Commission also authorizes $26M for Westside Parkway Please see HWY 99 / A3 Caltrans announces plans to grow five-mile stretch of the 99 in south Bakersfield from 6 to 8 lanes