As cars whizzed by on the new lanes, former Congressman Bill Thomas joked with Bakersfield City Manager Alan Tandy during the Highway 178 widening project completion ceremony Wednesday.

You got a freeway, and we finally got extra lanes, he quipped to the city manager, who lives on the west side of Bakersfield.

The increase in the number of lanes along Highway 178, from two to six between Canteria Drive and Masterson Street and from two to four from Masterson Street to Miramonte Drive, was made possible by funds Thomas had secured when he was in Congress a decade ago.

Those transportation funds are helping pay for what's called Thomas Roads Improvement Program, or TRIP, projects.

The highway widening project, which also improved existing traffic signals, cost $25.5 million. It is the last TRIP work on Highway 178, which also saw improvement to two interchanges, at Fairfax Road and Morning Drive, several years ago.

City Councilman Ken Weir, who represents northeast Bakersfield, said the road widening will relieve traffic congestion and provide the infrastructure needed as the area continues to grow.

The ribbon cutting ceremony was held at Mesa Marin Sports Complex, which Weir called an "anchor of development in the area." Plans are in the works to add a playground and walking path, among other things, to the complex.

Surrounding the complex are new homes and a new school.

The celebration had strong attendance, including from representatives of local state legislators and Reps. David Valadao and Kevin McCarthy. Bakersfield Mayor Karen Goh, Ward 2 Councilman Andrae Gonzales and Ward 4 Councilman Bob Smith were also there.

Because the state and federal leaders had representatives present, Weir took the opportunity to say the sports park needs more funding and that its open for name sponsorships.

"Anyone want a park named after them?" Weir asked the crowd.

The next major project TRIP has is the Centennial Corridor, which will link Highway 58 to the Westside Parkway. Homes and businesses are already being cleared for the project, and work on moving utilities will begin this summer.

Dorothy Mills-Gregg can be reached at (661) 395-7368. Follow her on Twitter via @TBCCityBeat.

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