Depending on which way they’re traveling, freeway motorists coming into Bakersfield may be getting a skewed, funhouse mirror perception of the city’s size based on two Caltrans signs along Highway 99. The city might seem considerably smaller to drivers going in one direction than to those going the opposite way.
That’s because when contractors finished a $1.4 million sign replacement project in late June, they failed to change out one of those green-and-white exit advisory signs.
Motorists driving south through town get an up-to-date look at the state’s ninth largest city with a new sign that’s positioned north of the 7th Standard Road/Merle Haggard Drive exit. It reads “Bakersfield / Next 12 Exits.”
For now, though, visitors driving north see Bakersfield through the lens of a highway sign that likely dates back to the 1970s. It reads “Bakersfield / Next 5 Exits.”
To make matters, well, less accurate, the sign is planted just north of the Panama Lane exit. That’s now well within the present-day city limits, which extend south past Taft Highway.
John Liu, Caltrans District 6 Director of Maintenance and Operations, said the sign was supposed to be moved and replaced — it just didn’t happen.
“Apparently the contractor was not directed to upgrade the northbound one, so we are going to have our own state forces upgrade and relocate” it, Liu said.
State workers will move the sign outside city limits during the next month and give it a yet-newer “exits” number — 13, because there are 13 exits from northbound 99 in Bakersfield.
Later this year, at a cost of around $1,000, it will be completely replaced. Caltrans will also move the “Bakersfield city limits” sign on northbound 99 because it’s currently located near White Lane — also now inside city limits.
Both signs were part of a state freeway sign renewal that began last year and updated 197 overhead signs on Highways 99, 58 and 178 in city limits, and 48 ground-mounted signs throughout Kern County.
Margaret DeArmond was surprised to hear at the Tuesday meeting of Keep Bakersfield Beautiful’s Freeway Litter Program Ad Hoc Committee that the work had been finished on June 28.
“I was just a little surprised when Caltrans said ‘We’re done’ — no, you’re not,” said Margaret DeArmond, a member of a KBB group of retirees who pick up trash on local freeways.
She said the undercount has a special significance in Bakersfield, which is still a regular target for slings and arrows from around the country.
“To me it says you’re a small town and when Bakersfield is labeled as a small town it’s also labeled as a — you know the image we get from all different places,” DeArmond said.
Ward 7 Councilman Chris Parlier, whose southern area includes the “five exits” sign, said mistakes can happen, “so if it’s a legitimate mistake, fine.”
But Parlier said he thinks Caltrans needs to do a better job of keeping highways clear of trash, debris, and dead vegetation and trees — particularly on 99 at Ming Avenue and at Highway 58.
“If nobody else has a broken window, how come we do?” said Parlier, who has noticed state highways elsewhere in California tend to look nicer.
“How come other areas of Caltrans’ responsibility get done and this end doesn’t seem to get done? They’ve trimmed the oleanders and they have done some stuff on request, but some proactive activities would be nice,” he added.
Liu said in an email that Caltrans is “looking into more specifics as to issues at Ming Avenue and the junction at State Route 58 that need to be addressed” but private clean-up crews typically aren’t allowed into construction areas, which become the responsibility of the contractor.