Bakersfield's first step toward building the Centennial Corridor began Wednesday with a groundbreaking ceremony for the Kern River bridge.

The $41.2 million bridge project will modify the east end of the Westside Parkway and its bridges as well as add some bridges.

Officials from the city, Kern Council of Governments and Caltrans, along with former Congressman Bill Thomas, praised the project as progress toward one day connecting Highway 58 to Interstate 5.

"This is the beginning of the end," Thomas said.

More specifically, the project will:

  • Create the future off-ramp for westbound traffic exiting onto Mohawk Street, building a bridge over Truxtun Avenue and the Kern River.
  • Widen existing bridges for east- and westbound traffic along the Westside Parkway to eventually connect to the Centennial Corridor mainline.

During his remarks, Thomas told the story of how he convinced Congress to give Bakersfield $630 million for freeways, which became the Thomas Roads Improvement Program. He showed Congress the map of the United States' west coast and pointed out how Highway 58 ends.

He asked Congress, "Who else has a district that dead-ends into a state freeway?"

Since the Centennial Corridor project is not fully funded, Thomas also made a plea for receiving more money.

"Please, please help us finish this worthy project," he said.

"We desperately need the funds that could be provided to us to help us finish the project. And fast," he added.

His passion for the project made his voice tremble slightly, and he praised Bakersfield City Manager Alan Tandy for keeping everyone on track and seeing the big picture throughout the process.

"And my biggest worry is that time is going to take you from us," Thomas told Tandy. "You don’t get to retire until my grandsons stand next to me and we cut that ribbon.”

Centennial Corridor is the multi-million dollar project to connect Highway 58 to the Westside Parkway.

While the exact timeline for construction is uncertain due to funding issues, the city plans this year to continue getting the corridor area ready for building the "mainline" portion of the connector. That includes relocating sewer and utility lines and constructing a sound wall.

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

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