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Felix Adamo / The Californian

Local dignitaries attended the groundbreaking ceremonies for the widening projects for both north and southbound Highway 99 within Bakersfield city limits.

The California Department of Transportation has broken ground on two projects that will widen Highway 99 from six lanes to eight lanes through Bakersfield, reducing traffic congestion.

Highway 99 is sometimes called the backbone that connects northern and southern California, and due to the heavy traffic up and down the highway, Caltrans decided to take on two projects slated for completion by 2014.

"These two projects will improve mobility, reliability and reduce congestion by adding a lane in each direction," Sharri Bender-Ehlert, district 6 director of Caltrans, said at a Friday morning news conference.

The North project is located within Bakersfield city limits from Highway 204 to Beardsley Canal undercrossing. The South project is located within city limits from Highway 119 to Wilson Road overcrossing. Both projects will add a 12-foot lane and a 10 foot inside shoulder in each direction of travel, separated by a concrete median barrier within theexisting median. Additionally, the South project will have an auxiliary lane for the southbound Panama Lane exit.

The funding for these projects comes from Proposition 1B, the 2006 voter-approved transportation bond, and from the KernCouncil of Governments.

"In 2006 California voters approved Prop 1B and although it caused a controversial provision for Highway 99, (in) today's transportation environment, these road projects are important to keep up with improvements," said Ahron Hakimi, executive director of the Kern Council of Governments said.

The total cost for both projects is about $47 million.

Even though the end goal is to alleviate congestion, during the next year and a half of construction there will be an increase in traffic congestion throughout Highway 99, California Highway Patrol Capt. Mike Cardoza said.

"We ask the public to be extra patient and if they are going to be traveling down South, we ask that they give themselves extra time to travel and not rush to their destinations," Cardoza said. "Safety is important not only for our drivers but for our Caltrans workers that are working on this freeway expansion."