At long last, Bakersfield officials see light at the end of the freeway.
The opening of the Westside Parkway, a key thoroughfare connecting with the Thomas Roads Improvement Program, is just around the bend -- an unspecified date in August. Construction began in 2009.
Commuters will initially have about six miles of new pavement under their wheels between Truxtun Extension east of Highway 99 to Allen Road in the west, which is expected to ease traffic congestion on Truxtun, California Avenue, and Stockdale and Rosedale highways.
Crews are applying the finishing touches -- installing lights, striping, signs and modest aesthetic details along the way.
John Sturgeon, an employee of Security Paving Inc., the parkway's prime contractor, walked across the concrete of the eastbound lanes Tuesday afternoon in a light mood.
"It's going to be nice," he said. "Now we just have to make it look pretty."
Gleaming guardrails, block sound walls and strategically placed river rock complement the bright driving surface. And the aroma of a lush, green forest filled the air as mountains of wood chips were spread along the route's shoulders.
The parkway's opening had been set for December 2012 but some unanticipated engineering changes upended the schedule. Now, TRIP spokeswoman Melissa Rossiter said, officials are looking toward August for a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
"We're still hammering out a finalized date for that," she said.
Driving west from the Mohawk on-ramp, just a tumbleweed's roll from the Alon oil refinery on the right and the bone-dry Kern River on the left, a big, green freeway sign reads:
"Coffee Rd 3/4
Calloway Dr 21/2
Allen Rd 4" -- informing motorists that the next group of on- and off-ramps is ahead at Coffee and Brimhall roads. Next is a wide section of access and exit at Calloway. Continuing west, Jewetta Avenue crosses the freeway via a bridge, but there are no exits or on-ramps until Allen.
Some of the signs feature exit numbers, but those will be removed before the parkway opens as it is not a state highway.
Most of the way, the freeway is three lanes wide. It abruptly ends at Allen in the west, where the project's next phase is getting started to link up with Heath Road and Stockdale. That stretch is expected to require 18 months to complete.
But construction of the project's thorniest portion, the contentious Centennial Corridor connection to Highways 99 and 58, remains unsettled while an environmental report is compiled and homeowners fight the plan.
The corridor is to connect to the parkway and ultimately west to Interstate 5. To do so will require bulldozing hundreds of homes in the Westpark neighborhood southwest of California and west of Highway 99.
Corridor construction is set to begin in 2016.