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Tuesday, May 27 2014 05:25 PM

More concrete, less dead ice plant, coming to area freeways

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Highway 99 is busy through Bakersfield in this file photo from 2013.

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BY THEO DOUGLAS Californian staff writer tdouglas@bakersfield.com

Highway 99 landscaping will get more concrete but retain many existing plantings in long-range plans to beautify the freeway, a Caltrans official told Keep Bakersfield Beautiful members Tuesday.

It'll look a lot like other parts of California where landscaping has been pared back -- but not be entirely devoid of greenery as is seen in Arizona, Caltrans District 6 Director of Maintenance and Operations John Liu explained at the group's monthly meeting.

"What we request is to have a one-foot-wide plain, white concrete border around the decorative red" stamped concrete, Liu said of the triangular areas between highways and on- or off-ramps, which Caltrans calls "gores." "Most of Fresno is done that way. We are moving to a more sustainable landscape, a little more closer to the Arizona landscape, more rocks and borders."

Caltrans Senior Landscape Architect R. Brad Cole explained other possibilities.

"What I would envision is more native trees, using more rock cobbles," Cole said, referring to rocks set in cement, which resemble cobblestones. "We've started doing that in Fresno. There's also the buckwheat. That's doing pretty well without water."

Areas of Highway 178 at Fairfax Avenue and the new California Avenue on-ramp to southbound Highway 99 already feature some of these treatments, Liu said.

Starting next week, Caltrans will begin trimming trees and tearing out dead ice plant and replacing it with mulch on north and southbound Highway 99 between Wible Road and White Lane, and on northbound Highway 99 between Truxtun Avenue and Rosedale Highway.

The agency is also in the midst of a $2.2 million installation of new sprinkler controllers on Bakersfield highways -- part of its plan to use less water following Gov. Jerry Brown's January drought declaration.

The project is behind schedule and should be done in July.

Ward 6 Councilwoman Jacquie Sullivan, who met privately with Caltrans officials last week to discuss the colored concrete idea, said she liked plans for the gores.

"Kern County, one of our major industries is farming. We do not visualize ourselves as a desert community," Sullivan said. "I love the idea of the red stamping."

In remarks made via teleconference, Liu also said Caltrans might be open to paying Bakersfield its costs -- about $500,000 a year -- to do Highway 99 landscaping within city limits.

Acting Public Works Director Nick Fidler said he expects Sullivan will bring up the idea at a future Bakersfield City Council committee meeting -- but is unsure whether it could become reality.

"I think over the next three to four years, you're going to see a lot of improvements to the corridor, not only because Caltrans is increasing their maintenance but with all the projects going on," Fidler said.

The red stamped concrete areas, he said, will lend "more of a theme through the city of Bakersfield, which is kind of nice. It'll identify that you've entered the city limits."

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