Overpass closure isolates businesses, residents

CNJ staff photo: Kevin Wilson Residents living and working south of the Hull Street Overpass said they feel somewhat isolated from the north side of Clovis since the overpass has been out.

By Kevin Wilson: CNJ staff writer

On the south side of Clovis, a road leads up to the former — and future — home of the Hull Street Overpass.

But since the former overpass was closed and subsequently demolished, the only sights to see on the road are traffic barriers and a horizon that doesn’t show the north side of Clovis.

“You feel like you’re in nowhereland,” Myrtle Rush says before she takes a sip of her afternoon coffee at Mom’s Cafe on Hull Street.

Gov. Bill Richardson said Tuesday he should be able to free up $5 million from Surface Transportation Program funds by June. Combined with $2 million the city has from other sources, City Manager Joe Thomas said, that should be enough to replace the overpass, which has been closed since the end of June 2008.

“We feel it will be,” said Thomas, “but of course we won’t know for sure until actual bids are received.”

Thomas figures the timeline, which would include bid approval in late August and up to 36 weeks construction, points to a June 2010 reopening.

“Our estimate at the time we closed the bridge,” Thomas said, “was anywhere from 18 months to two years before we could get the structure replaced. We’re coming up on a year, so we will be pushing the 24-month period.”

Business owners south of the overpass feel the wait has been too long already.

It’s about 4 p.m. at Mom’s Cafe on this Wednesday, and the restaurant Rush manages on Hull Street has about four customers, plus the occasional cattle buyer who just wants a to-go cup of iced tea.

Mom’s stays open every Wednesday until about 8 p.m. for the weekly cattle sale, which draws about 200 buyers and sellers to the Clovis Livestock Auction headquarters, which shares a building with Mom’s.

Any other day? Rush and her staff would have stopped serving hamburgers, chicken fried steak and enchiladas around 2 p.m., if not earlier.

“It’s been really difficult,” said Rush, who took over the restaurant in October after years on the wait staff. “I’d imagine we lose $200-300 every week not being open.”

While Mom’s is closing earlier, One Stop Feed next door is staying open later. Salesman Mitch Jones says he’s sometimes waiting a little extra for customers to arrive to pick up an order.

He’s also getting up earlier to get to work.

“For me, mostly,” Jones said, “it just takes a little extra time to drive around and take my kids to school.”

Jones lives south of the overpass, and his kids go to school north of the overpass. That means he’s got to take an alternate route four times a day, and a tight schedule means he tries to avoid trains at Martin Luther King Boulevard.

Without the overpass, travelers have three choices to get to the other section of Hull Street. They are MLK Boulevard and Clovis’ other two overpasses — N.M. 467 to the west, and Prince Street to the east.

Business owners noted concerns when it comes to emergency response time, but Karen Burns of the Clovis Fire Department said it hasn’t been much of a problem yet.

“We have to take note of it,” Burns said. “We have to be cognizant of the fact we don’t have the overpass … (N.M.) 467 is out of our way and we won’t chance the railroad tracks being occupied (before) MLK. We’re going to go Prince Street 99, 98 percent of the time.”

Chief Ray Westerman said small fires haven’t been an issue because the station on Brady Street can handle most matters. A multi-building fire, on the other hand, could prove too much for the Brady station to handle, and he doesn’t like the thought of anything delaying additional help.

“From the safety standpoint,” Westerman said, “the overpass is crucial.”

Rush said she hasn’t had to eliminate any of her eight employees, but she has cut hours. She’d like to keep the business open in the evening once the overpass reopens, citing a solid customer base when there are no transportation issues.

“I’ve got some good customers,” she said. “They help us out a lot. They pass out our menus around town.”

One Stop declined to estimate sales losses, other than to say they’re probably down about 40 percent on pet food sales, and those sales make up about 20 percent of One Stop’s revenues — an estimated 8 percent drop.

The average pet owner can skip the 50-pound bag of dog food at One Stop and get it at a supermarket, Jones said, but horse and lamb food aren’t sold at many other venues.

“Our feed (business) isn’t going to be affected,” Jones said. “On pet supplies, there’s not a lot we can do.”

Clovis City Manager Joe Thomas was asked Wednesday for a hypothetical Hull Street Overpass timetable on the assumption Clovis has needed funding on July 1.

Here are his projections:

• July 15: Approximate date the project would be out to bid, based on a two-week estimate Thomas gave Gov. Bill Richardson on Tuesday. The bid period would probably end on Aug. 14, after 30 days — a standard amount of time for a project of the overpass’ magnitude.
“If you try to do it in less amount of time, you kind of set yourself up for challenges,” Thomas said. “The bidders don’t have time to get prices in and make a responsive bid.”

• Aug. 21: This would be the first City Commission meeting following the Aug. 14 date. Thomas said this could also push into the Sept. 4 meeting. Regardless of the meeting, Thomas said it was reasonably safe to assume the bid would be awarded.

• Sept. 14: A potential date for shovels hitting the ground. More than three full weeks would have passed since the bid approval, giving the contractor ample time to acquire materials and manpower to do the work.
The timetable to complete the project is 180 working days. Assuming a five-day workweek, construction would take 36 weeks.
“A lot of that is at the flexibility of a contractor,” Thomas said. “It’s assumed you’re going on a 40-hour workweek. Sometimes contractors will deviate from that and do a six-day workweek, but you’re usually doing a five-day workweek.”
Construction would be difficult throughout the late months of 2009 when BNSF Railway is usually at its busiest.
“We have to understand this is the main rail line for BNSF,” Thomas said. “There are federal regulations that require how long it can be closed over a given amount of time. There are some federal regulations and restrictions that have to be met. So far the railroad has been cooperative working with us on the project.”

• May 22, 2010: This is the final Saturday of the 36th week of construction. Thomas said there are a lot of variables, but June 2010 would be a fair date to assume completion.

Thomas said inspections will be ongoing, so it’s fair to assume vehicles could start using the bridge as soon as construction is complete.