Be careful: The ongoing construction along Highway 99 could take you on a longer ride than you intend.
Commuters taking the freeway northbound from Stockdale Highway or points south to any of the city's northernmost off-ramps will want to stay out of the No. 1, "fast" lane, lest they miss their exit and find themselves forced to drive all the way to Porterville Highway.
On Sunday night, that left lane was diverted onto the southbound side of the center median between Palm Avenue and Olive Drive. For the next year, it will be a "through lane" and will not have off-ramp access between California Avenue and Olive Drive. Starting just north of Stockdale Highway, a concrete barrier prevents drivers from leaving the No. 1 lane until they are north of Olive and essentially beyond the Bakersfield city limits.
So, drivers who remain in the No. 1 lane will miss the exits at California Avenue, Rosedale/Highway 178/58, Buck Owens Boulevard, Highway 204/Airport Drive and Olive Drive.
They won't have a chance to get off the freeway until they reach the Highway 65 exit, or beyond that, Merle Haggard Drive/7th Standard Road, which is the northernmost metro Bakersfield exit. Next stop, Shafter.
The traffic switch is expected to remain in effect until summer 2020, at which time the switch will reverse for work on southbound 99.
The Department of Transportation, which has contracted the work to Brosamer & Wall Inc., is focused on keeping at least three lanes of traffic open in each direction during the ongoing 99 rehab project.
The diversion will come as a surprise to some drivers, but Christian Lukens of Caltrans said the state agency has been trying to notify people for some time.
"We've tried to get the word out on that, just to make people aware," he said. "We've had the signs for some time, but I know people are going to get caught unaware anyway.
"It's going to be inconvenient for folks, we know that," Lukens said. "The thing they're trying to do is leave it at three lanes in both directions through the entirety of the project, and this is the only way it can be done."