Citizens push for overpass site change

By Rick White: CNJ managing editor

While campaigning in south Clovis in the fall, Rep. Jose Campos, D-Santa Rosa, kept hearing the same complaint. Residents south of the railroad tracks felt cut off from city amenities since the Wheaton Street railroad crossing was closed in May 2003.

A proposal to build an overpass about two miles west of the city limits on state Highway 467 did little to appease their concerns.

Campos will hold a meeting today in Santa Fe with area residents, county and city officials to discuss the feasibility of moving the overpass to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, which is east of Wheaton Street and within city limits.

“While I was campaigning door-to-door about 95 percent of the residents said they were unhappy about the situation,” Campos said. “Since then I’ve continued to hear concerns.”

City and county officials agreed to close a portion of Wheaton Street to make way for a Burlington Northern Santa Fe rail yard expansion.

In return, BNSF made guarantees about safety measures, jobs and economic development and the railroad’s participation in an effort to build an overpass over state Highway 467.

Campos said he’s in favor of moving the overpass to MLK but ultimately the decision is in the hands of the residents and local government officials.

He said public safety as well as convenience are the primary motives.

“I think there’s been a few occasions that an ambulance has had to alter its route to get across,” Campos said. “Plus they don’t have direct access to the hospital, recreational facilities or even the fire department.”

City and county officials believe moving the overpass to MLK would significantly delay the approximately $3 million project on Highway 467 and possibly jeopardize state and federal funding already in place.

“My biggest concern is the project is about ready to go,” County Manager Dick Smith said. “We’ve already done a preliminary assessment and have some architectural and engineering work done.

“But I think we do have to go up there and listen because it’s all about communication.”

Smith said the current project is scheduled to start in June or July.

He said a move at this point would significantly delay the project and likely increase the cost by more than $1 million. He said the city would have to buy private land in the MLK area and move residents in the Grande Apartments to complete the project.

Campos said he’s researched the situation and is confident the funding would still be in place if the project was moved.

Smith isn’t so sure.

“That’s not what we hear,” Smith said. “Our understanding is the project would have to go back through the appropriations committee and there would be no guarantee it would pass.”

Clovis City Manager Joe Thomas expressed similar concerns over losing funding.

City Commissioner Isidro Garcia said he’d like to see something done for the Wheaton-area residents, but not at the cost of endangering the funding or significantly delaying the project.

“About 90 percent of the people that live on the southwest side of the tracks between 467 and MLK have to go all the way around just to get a loaf of bread,” said Garcia. He said a Burlington Northern Santa Fe track that runs north and south between Wheaton Street and the Hull Street overpass to the east further isolate his constituents.

A county-appointed committee recommended Highway 467 as the best site for the overpass based on logistics such as traffic counts, space and availability of funding.