“First motorcycle,” the crew exclaimed at 10:52 a.m. as a grey-haired main pulled up to Justin Howalt and asked if it was safe to pass.
“It looks smooth,” Clovis’ city engineer shouted over the breeze and motorcycle engine’s roar, “so you should be good to go through.”
A few minutes later, it was another first as a semi traversed the new Hull Street Overpass.
The 10:45 a.m. opening Friday marked the end of an 11-month, $3.4-million project and more than two years of frustration and extra travel for Clovis residents.
“There’s a lot of excitement,” Howalt said before taking a walkthrough with Hamon Construction of Denver. “We had people waiting at the bottom.”
Many motorists honked as they went through the overpass, with the majority just coming to check out the new bridge, U-turn at the south end and drive back over.
South of the overpass, it was business as usual. The specials at Mom’s Cafe were chicken fried steak and catfish, but the early lunchtime talk was all about the overpass.
“Guess where we’re going,” a couple of customers said to Myrle Rush following their meal. Rush smiled and said, “The overpass.”
The small restaurant survived because of a steady flow of customers from weekly livestock sales. But Rush said the two years also happened because customers decided it was worth the additional few miles for Mexican food and sandwiches.
“We’ve stayed open,” Rush said. “We’ve had some good customers who went around (to the Prince Street overpass).”
In the meantime, they’ve been watching and waiting for Hamon to finish the job.
“We were a little late on our estimate,” Project Manager Brad Davis said with a smile. “You guys had a lot of water and ice storms.”
Davis had previously estimated the first week of November for completion.
Otherwise, Davis said, he had few complaints about the project, which was done with a combination of local crews and training crews from Denver. He said that local construction companies provided them with supplies that slipped their mind, and plenty of people made sure the project was done safely while the railroad stayed in operation.
Many customers, and Rush, said they may accidentally drive past Hull Street some days out of habit.
Rush hadn’t yet been on the overpass, but said she’d get to it later in the day. She said she wanted to be the first, but at the current rate she might not make it in the first 2,000.
The first person was Commissioner Fidel Madrid. He said if he had it his way, fellow District 3 Commissioner Bobby Sandoval — who had a scheduling conflict out of town — would have been the first to cross.
“It felt great,” Madrid said. “Bobby should have been the first crosser, since he’s been working on it for so long.
“You don’t miss something until you don’t have it.”
Davis, who split his time between the Hull Street project and another project he was managing in Denver, was looking forward to returning the camper he’d been borrowing from a boss.
But he and Hamon are always bidding for New Mexico jobs, he said, so he imagines he’ll be back — maybe years down the road.
“When you guys are ready to do Prince Street,” he said, “just let me know.”