Motorists who use the Belle Terrace bridge to cross Highway 99 may soon have to consider an alternate route.
At its Jan. 10 meeting, the Bakersfield City Council approved an agreement with the California Department of Transportation to move ahead with plans to rebuild the bridge at Belle Terrace and Wible Road to accommodate a widening of Highway 99.
The project is part of preparatory work for the Centennial Corridor freeway project, which will connect the Westside Parkway to Highway 58.
“The bridge will be demolished and a new one will be constructed that will be higher and longer,” said Project Manager Luis Topete.
Topete said a longer bridge is needed because an auxiliary lane will be added to both the northbound and southbound sides of Highway 99 from Ming Avenue to Highway 58. Motorists use those lanes to get on and off the freeway without disrupting through traffic.
Topete estimates that construction on the project will begin this summer and take about two years to complete. For most of that time, the Belle Terrace bridge will be unavailable.
“We will have a detour established, likely directing traffic to Stockdale Highway to cross the freeway,” he said.
The Belle Terrace/Wible Road intersection will be modified to accommodate the new overcrossing. On the west side, Alamo Street at Belle Terrace will also need to be altered. Topete said this will involve full or partial lane closures on those streets.
The closure of the bridge could cause headaches for some parents — and for the Bakersfield City School District. Two schools, Munsey Elementary and Curran Middle School, are located near the Belle Terrace crossing, which provides the most direct access to the schools for students who live east of Highway 99.
Parents coming from the east side to drop off or pick up their kids from school will likely have to use Ming Avenue or Stockdale Highway to cross the freeway. School buses will also have to consider alternate routes.
BCSD transportation officials weren’t available for comment on Thursday.
Some businesses near the bridge would also likely be impacted by the project. Darlene Jimenez, who runs the Sunshine Center, a preschool located on South Real Road just north of Belle Terrace west of Highway 99, said a lot of parents from the east side use the bridge to bring their children to the center.
If the bridge was closed, east Bakersfield parents would also need to use Stockdale Highway to cross Highway 99 to get to the center.
“I really hope [the closure] doesn’t affect us too much,” Jimenez said. “We have quite a few families from that side that have a need for our care.”
Other businesses likely to be impacted are the Larson Food Store and the Jolly Kone burger stand, both situated at the Belle Terrace/Wible Road intersection.
The project hasn’t been fully green-lit just yet. Funding still has to be obtained by the city and approved by the City Council. Caltrans is trying to get nearly $31 million in State Highway Operation and Protection Program funds from the California Transportation Commission to fund the majority of the project.
Topete said the entire cost of the project will be around $42 million. If Caltrans gets the funding, the city will need to come up with $11 million to fund the rest of the project.
The city has $5.5 million in local funds already budgeted for the project, leaving another $5.5 million needed. Topete said he doesn’t believe it will be difficult for the city to come up with the rest of the funding.
“I think it would be an easy exercise for the city to find more local or federal funds for the project. The money is there somewhere,” Topete said.
Caltrans anticipates that it will be awarded the state funding in March. Once the rest of the funding is obtained and approved, Topete said, work will begin.