Snarled traffic riles drivers, businesses at Panama Lane

Snarled traffic riles drivers, businesses at Panama Lane »Play Video
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — Drivers and businesses are complaining that a major road project on Panama Lane is nothing but trouble. They question how and why the work is being done.

Bakersfield officials say they do their best to keep access open and keep drivers moving through.

The big job started a couple weeks ago, rebuilding Panama from east of Highway 99 to South H Street.

“I’ve been here twice,” a driver told Eyewitness News as he was stopped in traffic on Tuesday morning. “It’s probably cost me 45 minutes.”

“It just causes a lot of trouble, trying to get where we need to go,” another driver complained.

It’s an area with a busy shopping center, and big stores like Walmart and Lowe’s.

At O’Reilly’s Auto Parts, the commercial manager said the road construction has hurt business.

“It’s affected a lot of retail business, a lot of our walk-in,” Juan Ramos said. “It’s dropped quite a bit, more than 30 percent of our retail.”

The business people and the drivers argue it’s too hard to get through the construction zone. They don’t like how crews funnel traffic around the work, and they don’t like how the signs direct drivers.

“It’s getting to the point they’re so frustrated, that everyone is not even obeying the signs, they’re just making their turns anyway.” Ramos said. “Hopefully there won’t be an accident, but I think there’s one coming pretty soon.”

Bakersfield street construction superintendent Rick Millwee said safety is the priority, and they try to provide access.

“We do have to restrict turning movements at some times,” Millwee said. “We’re trying to do our best to keep as much access as we can to the individual businesses.”

Drivers complain the signs are confusing, but Millwee says crews also do their best with that as the work progresses. “We’re elevating these signs daily to see and respond to complaints.” Millwee said. He added the signs have to meet state standards.

But, another complaint – or suggestion – is why can’t the construction be done at night?

“It’s a highly residential area,” Millwee notes. “And to put that kind of construction noise in a residential area is highly prohibitive to the residents that live in that area.”

But with heavy traffic during the day, some drivers say they have to take long detours to get where they need to go. It becomes a ripple effect on businesses in the area.

“I’ll come in, I’ll go through Walmart to make a u-turn to come around to come through here, which is Jack in the Box,” Ramos said. He’s just trying to get back and forth to work at O’Reilly’s. He worries about safety and accidents.

And some complainers question whether Panama Lane needs this work at all. They say the roadway didn’t look that bad. Millwee said damage may not be visible, but engineers determined that stretch of road was getting so bad that complete reconstruction is needed.

The project is costing $1.1 million, Millwee said. And it’s supposed to be done by Nov. 21, just before Thanksgiving.

“Be patient, and try to get through as safely as possible,” Millwee advises. “We just ask for the public’s patience in getting through the project, if they absolutely need to be in that area.”

That advice may not sound hopeful to businesses, trying to keep customers coming to them. But, Millwee insists the city works with the contractor and crews to give businesses the best possible access. They re-evaluate the situation daily as the work progresses.