Work has begun to widen Santa Maria River bridge on Hwy. 101

Construction officially started today on a $38.4 million project to widen the Santa Maria River bridge from two to three lanes in each direction on Highway 101 near the San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara county line.

Caltrans held a groundbreaking ceremony this morning to mark the start of the project, which is expected to finish in 2013.

The project is expected to improve traffic safety and accommodate an increased number of vehicles. Average daily traffic counts are 64,000 vehicles, but that’s expected to grow to 100,700 by 2030, according to Caltrans.

“The widening of the bridge will improve safety for everyone,” acting Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty said in a news release today.

Funds from Proposition 1B, a transportation bond approved by California voters in 2006, will cover $24.5 million of the $38.4 million construction cost.

An additional $7.8 million comes from the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments, and the San Luis Obispo Council of Governments will pay $2.5 million, according to Caltrans.

And $8.6 million more is expected to be spent on non-construction-related costs, such as design, public meetings and environmental work.

The project’s contractor is Flat Iron West Inc. of San Marcos, Calif. Caltrans plans to have crews work at night and behind barriers during commute times to minimize impacts to drivers.