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Sep 30, 2011 7:16 PM by Ariel Wesler

Officials break ground on Santa Maria bridge expansion

Federal, State, and Local leaders broke ground today on a $35 million project to widen the Santa Maria river bridge. The bridge on Highway 101 will expand from two to three lanes in each direction. It connects San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties. Flat Iron West is the contractor for the project and plans to begin construction on Monday.

If you're used to commuting between San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties, you know this bridge very well.

"It is aggravating when it's slow, especially when you live here and you're just trying to get to Nipomo or San Luis," said Vickie Graham of Santa Maria.

"I don't think there's a person here who hasn't been stuck in the traffic that gets back up because of the slow down at the Santa Maria bridge," said Rep. Lois Capps

Besides getting an extra lane in each direction, the expansion will add shoulders and paths for cyclists and pedestrians.

"We're trying very hard in this community and other communities to encourage alternative transportation," Capps said.

Caltrans says an average of 64,000 cross over this bridge everyday, but right now, if there's an accident or emergency, they have no place to pull over. This project will change all that.

It will also put people to work, creating more than a dozen local construction jobs.

"Those construction jobs will generate an economic boost to the local economy," said Malcolm Dougherty, Caltrans Acting Director.

The millions of dollars required to pay for the project came from all levels of government, a benefit for both counties and drivers throughout California.

"Only because we're all working together that we end up with this wonderful outcome," said State Senator Sam Blakeslee. "It's going to make a difference for the next 30 and 50 years."

The project is a joint effort between Caltrans, SBCAG, and SLOCOG. Caltrans officials remind everyone to "Slow for the Cone Zone." They say lanes will only be closed at night, so your daytime commute should not be affected. The project is expected to be finished up by 2015.

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