The Westside Parkway, Bakersfield's first new freeway since Highway 58 was completed in 1976, will open at 10 a.m. Aug. 2 with a ribbon-cutting atop the bridge at Coffee Road, city officials said Friday.
Parkway construction is ongoing. Its next two miles, which will extend the six-lane freeway to the Heath Road and Stockdale Highway intersection, won't be completed until late next year.
But officials understandably are thrilled, because this five-mile stretch of six lanes, between Truxtun Avenue west of Highway 99 and Allen Road, represents a large piece of the city's transportation puzzle completed.
"It's a big project, it's unusual for a city to manage a project of this size," said Janet Wheeler, outreach manager for the Thomas Roads Improvement Program, which administered the project on behalf of the city.
"Let the engines roar," said Ward 6 Councilwoman Jacquie Sullivan. "It's our responsibility to look ahead and just move our traffic."
Public works of this magnitude can be the cornerstone of a career for people like city Engineer Luis Topete, who joined the Westside Parkway in 2007 during its design phase. This one, Topete said, isn't quite finished.
"We are all very excited. There's a light at the end of the tunnel, but at the same time it's very stressful," Topete said. "There's a lot of metal guardrails that we need to install, some concrete repairs, and on-ramp signals. Those are installed, but they need to be coordinated with Pacific Gas and Electric Co."
The public is invited to the opening, although Wheeler cautioned that the Parkway won't immediately be opened to drivers. Removing barriers from on- and off-ramps along all five miles will take several hours, she said.
On the flip side, motorists who attend the grand opening will have a chance to do something one rarely attempts on a six-lane expressway.
"We're going to bring people to the site via the westbound ramps at Mohawk Street," Wheeler said, "and there will be parking there on the site."
That's right: for the first and, probably, last time ever, you'll be encouraged to park on the Westside Parkway.