Over the last several years we have all been witnessing a huge amount of street and highway construction as a result of the Thomas Road Improvement Program funds. While it has inconvenienced us at times, it does promise an increase in drivability in Kern County when finished. Some significant improvement can already be seen.
In the long run, it appears that Interstate 40, which presently terminates at Barstow, will continue west on the present Highway 58 through Mojave, Tehachapi and Bakersfield ending at Interstate 5. This is long overdue and would constitute the best all-weather route for our produce to the East Coast. Extending it to Paso Robles and Highway 101 would be even better.
Now is the time that Bakersfield and Kern County should be considering how we present ourselves to people passing through. Some of us who have been around longer remember the Highway 99 sign “Sun, Fun, Stay, Play.” While the sign was sometimes mocked, it is also remembered. Right now, Bakersfield has a monument sign on Highway 99 that is fine, if unmemorable. Let’s think a little further about what we can do.
One of my recurring joys on coming back into Kern County from the Los Angeles basin is driving down the grapevine on I-5 where the hills finally open up in a huge V shape and one can see out into the valley. Admittedly, it is often marred by pollution, but it is still quite a vista. That view seems to me an excellent place to promote one of our main economic engines, agriculture.
I would like to see a full-sized billboard right there saying something like, “Now entering the most productive agricultural valley in the world.” It’s true. It’s simple. And it’s positive. Rather than focusing on a negative like “No water, no food,” it takes an upbeat approach.
Driving down Highway 58 there is a similar place where the valley suddenly appears before you. One can only imagine the impression that kind of view made on early explorers and the Dust Bowl families when they first saw it. Once again, we should put such a billboard there so visitors will have to consider who we are and what we do — for them.
The extensive highway construction will also bring visitors from the west through Bakersfield. Once the present Westside Parkway is completed it will become the new Highway 58 using Stockdale Highway from I-5 to the Parkway speeding through the city and out to the east. Where the freeway starts at the Westside Parkway should be a welcoming sign. Maybe even a version of the old Bakersfield Inn arch that welcomed millions of people over the years before it was moved near the Crystal Palace.
We also need to think of people coming into downtown Bakersfield from the west by taking the sweeping off-ramp from the Westside Parkway onto the Truxtun Extension to the civic center. Passing under Highway 99 one sees a disgraceful dirt embankment on the north side. Then there is a chain-link fence by the police pistol range. Then you see desultory plantings by the PG&E transformer station on the north side again. Surely we can do better.
In Seattle there is an overpass where years ago an artist installed a huge, concrete sculpture of the head of a bridge troll based on ancient superstitions.
It’s humorous, unexpected and fun. Maybe we could do something patriotic or historical. At least we could put some ground cover to hide the dry, dusty dirt. Maybe the chain-link fence could be replaced with a wall and a colorful mural. The PG&E planters could be augmented with something other than dry dirt and some trees replanted after having been cut down years ago.
Here’s my modest proposal: Now is the time to work on how we present ourselves to travelers as we finally enjoy the benefits of the highway projects going on around us.