Funding stalls overpass

An eastbound Burlington Northern Santa Fe train crosses N.M. 467 as it enters the west end of the Clovis yard Thursday afternoon. (Staff photo: Eric Kluth)

By David Irvin: CNJ staff writer

County officials hope to have grant money by February to start a railroad overpass project west of Clovis.

So far, over $2.6 million dollars has been committed to the N.M. 467 overpass project, about 2 miles west of town toward Cannon Air Force Base. An additional $400,000 is needed to help fund the project’s design and construction.

When President Bush signed the $388 billion Omnibus appropriations bill on Wednesday, $1 million was allocated for the overpass project.

To complete the project budget, the county is now applying for $500,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds. If the money is awarded — the grant is due Jan. 15 — a $75,000 or $100,000 budget surplus will exist to hedge against the risk of project overruns, said Chase Gentry, director of the Clovis Industrial Development Corp.

County Commissioner Albin Smith said construction of the overpass could begin by mid-year 2005. Construction was part of the agreement between the city, county and Burlington Northern Santa Fe when the Wheaton Street railroad crossing was closed to facilitate the railroad expansion, he said.

“I think the funding (from the Omnibus bill) won’t be in place until next summer,” he said. “As soon as the money is available, construction will begin. It will take 14 to 18 months to complete.”

But some residents living south of the tracks are tired of waiting.

“When they said ‘okay you can close it (Wheaton Street),’ they had that closed in a week,” said local resident Clarence Ampey, who lives on N.M. 467 south of the tracks. “Shouldn’t the same consideration be given to the citizens that is given to the big business and the railroad?”

Ampey said his family hasn’t been hit with a medical emergency since the closing of Wheaton Street, but in the last year trains crossing the streets have stopped him numerous times, once for as long as 40 minutes. The additional wait time could be crucial in an emergency situation, he said.

“Politicians can tell you they will do something without having the intent of doing it on that exact time line,” he said. “If it is an urgent medical need, like a heart attack, two minutes makes a lot of difference.”

Smith said the county has fulfilled its promise to the people living south of town by bringing together the project funds, but the state will take over and manage the actual construction of the overpass.

He also said he has a personal interest in seeing the project completed.

“It’s quite appropriate for me, because I live on the south side of the tracks,” Smith said. “When I voted to close Wheaton Street, it blocked one of our accesses to Clovis.”
The state’s highway department originally estimated the full project cost at $3 million, Gentry said, a number he believes to be accurate.

Gentry said he is writing a letter to the highway department asking them to go ahead and begin the engineering phases of the project. He said this will help expedite the start of the construction phase once all the money is available.

This is common practice when a project looks to be nearly fully funded, he said.

“The state highway department called me and asked us to get that letter to him so they can move forward,” Gentry said.
Gentry is excited the project seems so close to being completely funded.

“We’ve done it in a really short amount of time considering what it usually takes to make a project like this happen,” he said. “We want to keep our word to the people on the south side of the tracks.”

Last year, a similar $500,000 grant for the overpass project was denied by the Community Development Council.

Paying for the project
Key funding sources for the N.M. 467 overpass project:
• $1 million allocated in the federal omnibus bill singed into law Wednesday.
• $1 million from the state highway department.
• $100,000 allocation of capital outlay funds.
• $300,000 from BNSF. The railroad committed to fund 10 percent of the project.
• $207,898 in training funds donated to the project by BNSF.
• $500,000 Community Development Block Grant*

*Yet to be awarded

Source: Chase Gentry, director of Clovis Industrial Development Corp.