Caltrans says it is mostly finished resolving an east-west traffic bottleneck that has long frustrated Kern's ambitions of becoming a major distribution center, not to mention the headaches it caused county residents trying to get to or from Las Vegas.
On Thursday, the agency opened a nine-mile stretch that allows motorists crossing the Mojave Desert to bypass a stoplight at the critical intersection of Highway 58 and U.S. Route 395.
It said $200 million of mostly federally funded work that began along that portion of Highway 58 in January of 2018 is now two-thirds complete and will be finished in June of 2020, weather permitting.
An average of 14,100 tractor-trailers per day crossed the west side of that intersection in 2016, according to Caltrans records. Some say the resulting delays along Highway 58, which has only two lanes in that area, were known to last as long as half an hour.
The "long overdue" relief of congestion at Kramer Junction will improve safety, speed freight and reduce air pollution caused by idling engines, said Ahron Hakimi, executive director of the Kern Council of Governments, which coordinates regional transportation planning.
"The opening of Kramer Junction bypass is great not just for Kern County motorists but motorists across the nation and the state who use Route 58 to access Interstate 40 and (Interstate) 15, and from there they can access the rest of the United States," Hakimi said.
The project, located just east of the Kern County line in San Bernardino County, takes on added significance in the context of ongoing work on the Centennial Corridor, which is planned to connect Highway 58 with the Westside Parkway.
Retired Congressman Bill Thomas, probably the county's most successful advocate of local roadwork improvements, said the opening of an alternative segment along Highway 58 leaves just one other project in need of renewed government funding: a recently deferred grade separation at the intersection of Highways 43 and 46 in the Wasco area.
He called the Kramer Junction bypass exciting and long overdue, a sign Bakersfield is becoming a major distribution center.
"We already are," he said, "but it's going to be dramatic evidence that the federal government and the state government has recognized that we are an important interstate corridor."