The $17.2 million widening of Highway 58 west of Cottonwood Road, to reduce the rear-end and sideswipe accidents that occur when motorists merge from three lanes each way to two, begins next week, transportation officials said Thursday.

Security Paving Company will expand the freeway from four lanes to six using its existing median, meaning that no homes or businesses will be demolished as a result of its construction.

Today, Highway 58 ends just three miles west of Cottonwood Road, with construction of the controversial Centennial Corridor segment connecting it to the Westside Parkway -- and its eventual extension west to Interstate 5 -- years away.

What's needed now is more room for the 79,000 annual daily average vehicles that used Highway 58 last year, where it meets Highway 99; and the 76,000 annual daily average vehicles that used the highway where it crosses Cottonwood Road.

"The name of the project really says it all: 'State Route 58 Gap Closure.' What this project is intended for is congestion relief and safety and operational improvements," said Jose Camarena, a spokesman for Caltrans, which handled the project design and its environmental impact report, and performed traffic counts. "What we've got is that bottleneck that's created when you go from three lanes down to two."

Employees at St. John Missionary Baptist Church, 1401 E. Brundage Lane, weren't entirely aware of the groundbreaking ceremony that will take place at 11 a.m. Wednesday in the parking lot of their church, next to the freeway.

But Pastor James Scarborough of Bakersfield Hillcrest Seventh-Day Adventist Church said improvements are welcome.

"Getting on and off some of the ramps can be challenging," said Scarborough, who was visiting St. John Missionary Baptist. "When you come off Highway 99, that's where adding another lane would really help."

Others agreed.

"Is it going to affect anybody's property lines?" asked Severo Miranda as he took a break from sawing logs in east Bakersfield. Informed that no land would be taken, Miranda said it would "probably be a really great idea."

Crews in early November will begin by laying white concrete "K-rail," dividing construction areas from traffic lanes.

Widening most likely will go west to east, according to Luis Topete, an engineer for the Thomas Roads Improvement Program, which administers major highway projects on behalf of the city.

Workers will widen overpasses at Cottonwood Road, at the Union Pacific tracks, and at Madison and South P streets.

They'll also add a retaining wall and a second, future carpool lane to the westbound onramp from South H Street.

Funds for the project come from three sources. Kern County and Bakersfield each paid $1.5 million of the project's $3 million design and environmental costs.

The $14,154,016 construction cost will be paid by TRIP funds, $630 million in federal money secured for the city by former U.S. Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Bakersfield.

At its Sept. 25 meeting, the Bakersfield City Council voted 6-1 to approve a validation action, the legal first step toward providing matching TRIP funds by later borrowing as much as $270 million.