Concerned citizens are hoping an overpass will be built over the BNSF railroad tracks at Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. (Staff photo: Eric Kluth)
Clovis City Commissioner Robert Sandoval said much of the community just doesn’t understand what an inconvenience it is to wait at a railroad crossing day after day as trains loaded with goods from all over the country chug past.
That’s why he’s pleased that city and county officials agreed Friday to pursue building a railroad overpass at Martin Luther King Boulevard.
“If a person only goes there occasionally, you can put up with that,” he said. “If you are trying to get to work every day, or trying to get your sick baby to the doctor or the hospital, and both crossings are blocked, and you have to sit there for 30 or 40 minutes, it’s frustrating to say the least.”
Frustrated residents in south Clovis had taken their concerns about being cut off from the city by the railroad expansion to State Rep Jose Campos, D-Santa Rosa, who brokered Friday’s meeting in Santa Fe between government officials and citizens.
Campos said he’s received numerous complaints from constituents south of the tracks that they don’t have adequate access to area stores, hospitals and emergency services.
Officials agreed Curry County should proceed with plans to build an overpass on state Highway 467 west of the city because a change could potentially threaten the funding already in place. They also agreed a second overpass should be built at MLK. The cost of the two-lane 467 overpass is projected at $3 million.
Construction of a new overpass was part of an agreement between the city, county and Burlington Northern Santa Fe when the Wheaton Street railroad crossing was closed in May 2003 to facilitate the railroad expansion.
Sandoval agreed the prudent thing is to build the 467 project now since the federal and state funding is already in place, and work for Community Development Block Grants, state and federal moneys to fund the MLK project.
Clovis City Manager Joe Thomas said the city would have the responsibility to maintain the bridge at MLK once it is built. Getting it built, however, won’t be easy, starting with the $4 million-plus price tag.
“There’s going to be some obstacles to overcome to get the funding (for the bridge), but I think it’s doable,” Thomas said. “If the city and the county are able to get block grant moneys, that will probably be about half of the funding for the cost of the structure.”
He said after the block grants are obtained, officials will have to turn over a lot of rocks to find more funding for the MLK project.
Benny S. Pacheco, who sells real estate in the area and owns some land south of the tracks, says the 1,200 or so citizens living in the area south of the tracks near MLK are mostly Hispanic and on limited incomes. He said he has seen them overlooked before.
“So many times in the past, when people in that area have raised issues, they just brush it aside and hopes it goes away,” Pacheco said.
He said this issue isn’t really about money, but about safety for those living in that area.
Pacheco said he went into Friday's meeting hoping government officials would push for the MLK overpass project first. He said even the 467 overpass would require residents living south of the tracks to drive a mile and a half outside city limits to cross the tracks.
“The best solution is for a bridge to go in on MLK,” he said. “The worst solution is that no bridge goes in at all.”