However, more ambitious bypass is put on the back burner
Highway 119 – that oft used and cursed asphalt ribbon between Taft and Highway 99 – is up for some improvements designed to improve traffic flow and make it safer.
Work is scheduled to begin June 1 to widen the roadway through Valley and Dustin Acres and move utility poles a bit further away from traffic flow.
Another more ambitious project scheduled to start the summer of 2014 will lengthen and widen passing lanes between the main entrance to the Elk Hills oil field and Tupman Road.
The Valley/Dustin Acres project was scheduled to begin last December but has been delayed while water and oil pipelines and utilities are relocated.
“That project was suspended due to some utility issues,” said Caltrans project manager Steven Milton. “We hope to start up again June 1st. We want that project done before the end of fall. There may be some cleanup work that needs to be done that might push final completion into the spring.”
The project calls for adding eight-foot shoulders on both sides of the highway.
To make room for the new shoulders, the West Kern Water District is relocating water lines that encroach on the right-of-way. That project is nearing completion.
Oil pipelines also must be repositioned and utility poles moved further from the pavement.
Paul Linder, a Taft city councilman who represents the city on the Kern Council of Governments (KernCOG), said utility poles that dot both sides of the highway from Elk Hills Road to Cherry Avenue in Valley Acres will be rearranged so they are all located on one side of the highway. KernCOG is the agency that secures funding for county highway projects.
“The poles in Valley and Dustin Acres will be moved further away from the road,” Linder said. “They are just too close, and when someone runs off the road they usually hit a pole.”
Improved shoulders will help make that portion of the highway safer, but Linder said it really needs passing lanes.
“That’s where traffic really gets backed up,” he said.
The larger project is a revision of the state’s plan to build a four-lane expressway around Valley and Dustin Acres – a $60 million project in 2008 dollars that originally was scheduled to start last year and finish in 2015 but was derailed by the fiscal crisis.
Dubbed the Cherry Avenue Four-Lane Bypass, the project now will be done in phases “because of the complexities of financing,” Milton said.
Phase I involves extending passing lanes over the hill and widening the shoulder on the north side of the highway between the Elk Hills entrance and Tupman Road.
Phase II, Milton said, is the Cherry Avenue bypass.
“It’s been difficult for KernCOG to get that financed,” he said. “It’s just been real difficult for them.”
The biggest improvement calls for creating westbound passing lanes leading up to the Elk Hills entrance.
Linder and other local civic leaders still would like to see all of the roadway more commonly referred to as Taft Highway widened to four lanes.
“It’s frustrating because nobody really realizes how much traffic that road gets,” he said. “I know Caltrans does their traffic counts, but the highway gets tremendous use. Anyone who drives it on a regular basis knows that.”