CNJ staff photo: Andy DeLisle
irt is shoveled Thursday to symbolize the start of the N.M. 467 railroad overpass project.
By Tonya Garner: CNJ Staff Writer
Fluffy white clouds, a clear blue sky and a light breeze created a pleasant atmosphere for the N.M. Road 467 railroad overpass groundbreaking held Thursday at the future construction site.
As officials from the New Mexico Department of Transportation, Curry County and K. Barnett & Sons addressed the modest crowd, they were intermittently interrupted by the roar of F-16s soaring overhead.
Speakers were also forced to pause as trains rolled down the nearby tracks, announcing their progress with blaring horns. The presence of the numerous trains gave testimony to the need of the long-awaited project.
The railroad overpass will serve approximately 1,200 southwest Curry County residents who reside in the Wheat Ridge, Double A, South Valley and Buchanan subdivisions. Currently these residents cannot enter Clovis without crossing a railroad track.
Curry County Manager Dick Smith said the addition of an overpass on N.M. Road 467 will afford residents and emergency vehicles quick access into town.
Curry County Commissioner Albin Smith is one of those residents who lives in the area locked in by railroad tracks. Smith said he is often stopped by trains when coming into Clovis and uses the wait to reflect.
“I guess I’ll have to find a new place to pray,” Smith joked.
Dressed in a flag-emblazoned tie and dark sunglasses, Curry County Commission Chairman Tim Ashley said he considers the overpass to be the fulfillment of a promise to the community.
“The railroad expanded and created jobs, which is wonderful,” Ashley said, “but the safety and well-being of our citizens is a concern.”
The $3.6 million project was awarded to local contractor K. Barnett & Sons through a bid process. Company Vice President Jackie Freeman said being awarded the job was a win-win situation.
“Our employees are friends and neighbors,” Freeman said. “When we (K. Barnett & Sons) get a local job the dollars are staying home.”
Smith read a letter written by U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) who was unable to attend the ceremony.
“I had the opportunity to visit the New Mexico 467 railroad crossing and saw firsthand the challenges that Curry County residents are experiencing,” Bingaman said. “When completed, this overpass will help ensure that people in need of emergency care are able to reach the hospital without being delayed by trains.”
Bingaman secured $1 million for the project in a fiscal year 2005 transportation bill.
“I strongly support the use of federal funds to help ensure communities have the infrastructure they need to ensure safety,” Bingaman said.
The bulk of the construction costs will be paid in state funds of $1 million and federal funds of $2 million. Curry County has allocated $500,000 for sidewalks and guardrails. BNSF Railway will contribute 10 percent of the total cost as part of an agreement with the county to close the Wheaton crossing.
According to an NMDOT press release, the project will involve the installation of a new three-span bridge, sidewalks, curb, gutters and pavement markings.
The project is expected to take a year to complete depending on weather.