Crews moved mounds of dirt and readied for bridge construction Thursday in the second phase of widening Highway 46 East in Paso Robles.
The $54.1 million project to expand the highway to four lanes from two broke ground early this year.
When the project is complete in 2014, Caltrans will have widened a five-mile section of highway from Geneseo Road to Almond Drive.
“The only thing I’m hoping for is for easier travel,” said Mary Chambers, chairwoman of the county’s Fix 46 committee, which has long pushed for the widening project.
“It will increase safety out there. People will have a place to get out of the way.”
The corridor links San Luis Obispo County to the San Joaquin Valley and is popular for commuters and semi-trucks.
The project to increase the highway’s size features larger shoulders, medians and turn lanes.
Its $30 million first phase is wrapping up for an April unveiling. Since spring 2008, it’s been under construction to widen lanes between Airport Road and Geneseo Road.
With the second phase of work will also come two new bridges — one eastbound and one westbound with two lanes on each — to replace the Estrella River Bridge just west of the Whitley Gardens area.
The current bridge, built in 1955, has one lane in each direction.
The new bridges will be built at a higher elevation than the current bridge. On Thursday, crews were digging the footing for the new bridge supports.
The entire project is funded primarily by Proposition 1B, a $20 billion transportation bond approved by California voters in 2006.
Papich Construction of Pismo Beach won bids for the first and second phases of work.