Tag Archives: Interstate 40

Orange is the new ‘yellow’ in Amarillo

I have concluded that Amarillo needs to declare “orange” as the city’s official color.

Yes, “Amarillo” means “yellow” in Spanish. And oh brother, the grasslands surrounding the city are quite, um, yellow at the moment, given our absolute absence of any moisture for the past four months.

But orange is the predominant color one sees when driving damn near anywhere in this city of 200,000 residents. Orange seems to highlight every street there is. Orange cones. Orange barrels. Orange “Road Work” signs. Orange “detour” signs.

I also will concede that the abundance of orange is trying my patience as a fairly conscientious motorist.

Traffic is snarled on thoroughfares that are busy even when there’s no construction occurring. Coulter Street? Soncy? Grand? Pfftt! Forget about it! Don’t even think you can anywhere in a hurry if you have any thoughts of driving along those busy streets. They’re torn up.

Those are the city jobs.

How about the Texas Department of Transportation, which has crews working feverishly along Interstates 40 and 27 and Loop 335? I’ll say this about the TxDOT jobs: At least the traffic is moving smoothly along I-40, which my wife and I travel most frequently during the course of our day.

Today we noticed something that reminded me of a quip my late uncle once threw at me when he and my late aunt were traveling through Beaumont, where my family and I used to live.

TxDOT was rebuilding Interstate 10 in the late 1980s. Tom and Verna Kanelis came through town one year. They returned two years later — and the work was still under way! Tom called when they arrived, and then asked with good-natured derision: “What are they using out there to dig that highway? Spoons?”

Today, my wife and I watched five TxDOT employees at the Soncy-Interstate 40 overpass, digging and slinging dirt with shovels.

They might as well have spoons. My beloved Uncle Tom would have laughed out loud.

Amarillo (still) Matters

I had been wondering whatever became of Amarillo Matters, a political action group formed early this year to campaign for a slate of City Council candidates.

A High Plains Blogger post posed the question: Where have they gone?

Just wondering: Amarillo Matters … where is it?

I have some news. Amarillo Matters has re-emerged. It’s not exactly a scoop, but I’ll take a touch of credit for prompting Amarillo Matters to show itself again on the public landscape.

It’s now a 501(c)4 non-profit group, according to a press release issued by Amarillo Matters. It has some ideas on how to make life better in Amarillo. I certainly welcome Amarillo Matters back into view.

Amarillo Matters has elected a board of directors and it has chosen a president, Jason Herrick. The group’s press release talks about Amarillo Matters’ interest in promoting projects designed to improve the city’s economic well-being.

One particular project is one that caught my eye when I first heard about it: Texas Tech University’s proposal to build a large-animal veterinary medical school in Amarillo.

According to Amarillo Matters’ release: “We started working on this during the last legislative session. Our goal was to get funding in the state budget for a vet school in Amarillo,” Board Treasurer Andrew Hall said. More than $4 million was eventually allocated to Texas Tech to begin initial plans for a school. “This is the perfect example of the types of projects we are going to focus on. It’s something that will not only benefit Amarillo but the entire Panhandle and beyond,” Hall added. 

It’s fair ask: What can be wrong with that?

I have lamented about flashes in the pan that come and go on occasion in Amarillo. We hear from political candidates who emerge at election time; they lose and then they disappear, never to be seen or heard from again.

The same can be said of the organization formerly known as the Amarillo Millennial Movement. It formed to pitch its support for the multipurpose event venue. The MPEV was put to a citywide referendum vote in November 2015; it passed and then the AMM went poof! when the young woman who founded the organization moved to Fort Worth.

I’m glad that Amarillo Matters has resurfaced in some other form.

The city already is undergoing a significant makeover in its downtown district. Mayor Ginger Nelson has declared her intention to clean up residential alleys that have become cluttered with trash. Interstates 40 and 27 both are under major construction, as is Loop 335 along its Hollywood Road right-of-way.

Amarillo Matters will retain its PAC status as well, as the release notes: The group … will be involved in local elections. “We’re going to limit the races to those that have a direct impact on our city, economy and future,” Herrick said. The PAC has been watching the upcoming primary election and is expected to issue endorsements soon. 

I suspect those “endorsements” will generate their share of public discourse, debate and perhaps even a little dissension.

There’s nothing wrong with that, either.

Road woes persist in Amarillo

Some issues give me heartburn, particularly when they contain no easy solutions or options for those of us affected by them.

Highway, street and bridge construction fall into that category.

I’m hearing some grumbling about a major reconstruction project underway here in Amarillo, Texas, that is causing grief for motorists and business owners nearby.

The Texas Department of Transportation is knocking down a bridge that spans Interstate 40 at Bell Street. It’s causing serious traffic disruptions. The project will take months to complete. The bridge will be inoperable until November, according to the Amarillo Globe-News.

The state is spending more than $7 million on just that project alone! Oh, and then we have that Loop 335/Hollywood Road reconstruction project on the south end of the city.

How do the city’s residents and business owners cope with this madness and mayhem? With extreme patience, I venture to say. Whether this kind of work is being done in a mid-sized city such as Amarillo, or in a major metropolitan area, or even in a small rural community, someone, somewhere is going to get upset.

Just the other day, I was running an errand that took me from my southwest Amarillo home to a location near Sunset Center. I drove north along Coulter, hoping to catch the freeway east to Western Street. That’s when I discovered the work being done on I-40. Crews were diverting every vehicle off the highway onto the frontage road.

If I had been smarter and more attuned to what’s going on around the city, I would have taken Wolflin Avenue east from Coulter to my destination. I didn’t. I got stuck in traffic. Lesson learned for the next time I have to travel in that direction.

I tend to avoid getting too worked up over these highway and street projects. I try to see it as a glass-is-half-full deal. I like to look at the big picture, take the long view.

When it’s done, we’ll have a new bridge to cross when we travel north-south along Bell Street.

I just hope the new span will lend some aesthetic quality to the highway. Heaven knows the city needs it.

More frequent mowing? It’s a start, City Hall

Amarillo City Councilman Eddy Sauer posted an encouraging message on Facebook, which reads in part:

At Tuesday’s Council meeting we signed an agreement with TXDOT to increase mowings and weed control on I-40 and I-27. Improving curb appeal is a huge priority for me and the Council. While I’d like to take the credit, this is the result of hard work by city staff and our local TXDOT engineers and coordinators. I am very pleased and proud of how hard our staff is working to embrace the new council’s vision of moving our city forward. We are truly blessed and will continue to work hard to fulfill the commitments we’ve made to our residents. 

It’s a start, councilman.

The city is setting aside some additional money to cover the cost of the increased mowing. But to those who have expressed concern about the appearance of the interstate thoroughfares coursing through the city — such as yours truly — there remains a good bit more work to do.

Mayor Ginger Nelson laid out a detailed platform that included a highway beautification plank in it. I believe she intends to follow through on that pledge.

There ought to be a strategy laid out that enables the city and the state to team up on a landscaping program that dresses up the I-40/27 interchange. I recall when the Texas highway department rebuilt the interchange, flipping the east-west bound lanes with the north-south lanes. It was a huge undertaking. The state decorated the overpasses with colors that mirrored Palo Duro Canyon’s walls.

Then it let the ground under the interchange to become choked by weeds.

I applaud the City Council’s decision to run the mowers more frequently along the interstate rights-of-way. There’s more to do.

Highways getting some attention?

Welcome aboard, Amarillo City Councilman Eddy Sauer, in the campaign to dress up our public rights-of-way.

Sauer recent went to Waco and then posted this item on social media: “I’m committed to cleaning up our highways and making our city more inviting. The I-40 and I-27 corridors are great marketing tools for Amarillo. We have a great city and a great opportunity and we need to take advantage.”

He was struck, apparently, by the appearance of a sign greeting motorists entering the city.

I drive through the I-40/27 interchange roughly once a week and my hair still bristles when I notice its shabby appearance. A former Texas Department of Transportation actually told me once that the state opted to let “natural” flora grow rather than spend money to dress it up and make it more visually appealing. I believe I laughed out loud when he told me that; he took offense at my reaction.

Mayor Ginger Nelson has vowed to work out an agreement between the city and the state for a joint maintenance project that dresses up these rights-of-way.

The mayor now appears to have at least one ally on the City Council. Maybe more of them will emerge. One can hope.

Streets becoming major municipal campaign issue

If I could take aim at a single issue for our municipal candidates to ponder, it would our streets.

Getting from Point A to Point B has become a bit of a struggle at times, even in Amarillo, the city I used to joke had its “rush minute” daily at 8 a.m. and again at 5 p.m. It’s not so funny these days.

I am hearing from one of the candidates for City Council speaking in general terms about street maintenance and — in a related matter — traffic control.

Ginger Nelson is running for mayor along with two other candidates. I’ve already commented on her pledge to work with state transportation officials to negotiate a maintenance agreement to improve and maintain the appearance of the public rights-of-way along Interstate 40 and 27. I’m all for it!

She is speaking also about “considering all transit options like buses and bicycles to meet the needs of citizens.” Good deal. She can start that effort by talking to Parks and Recreation officials about how they can complete a citywide bicycle network that is supposed to enable residents to get anywhere in the city on a bicycle.

I have been patient for many years now as I have sought to navigate my way through the city. Streets get repaved regularly. Crews tear up asphalt on major thoroughfares and put fresh surfaces down. They remain in pristine condition far too briefly before patching crews show up.

Nelson wants to spend “street improvement bond money wisely.” I hope she articulates her definition of “wisely.” I’m all ears.

Finally, she hopes to develop “a plan for long-term maintenance of our streets.”  Good. I’ll await that plan, too.

Street repair and maintenance — along with developing routes for alternative transportation modes — is important at many levels.

We remain tied to automobiles in Amarillo. There’s little emphasis placed on using mass transit methods, such as the buses run by Amarillo City Transit. Maybe we can get more residents into our buses and out of their own motor vehicles. The fewer cars and pickups tooling down our streets, the less wear and tear on the pavement. Isn’t that a sensible outcome?

This election, I need to stipulate once again, is going to be a major event in the history of Amarillo. We’re getting a new City Council majority.

I want all the candidates to talk openly to residents about what they intend to do about our streets, upon which we depend to get from place to place.

One candidate for mayor at least is starting the conversation. For that I am grateful. Let’s develop it further.

Patience, please, as city remakes itself

Whenever I venture into downtown Amarillo — which isn’t too terribly often these days — I remind myself of what I’ve thought for as long as I can remember.

It is that no matter the inconvenience we experience today, we’ll be paid off at the end of it all.

I think of such things whenever the city decides to tear up its streets and repave/rebuild them. I grumble at the sight of those construction cones and the orange detour signs. Then I remember that there’s always an end to it.

So it is with this downtown reconstruction effort that’s well underway in many instances.

Buchanan Street is cluttered with construction gear; streets leading from Pierce onto Fillmore and Buchanan are closed off. The city, truth be told, looks like a giant construction zone, which isn’t very pretty.

Chain-link fences have gone up around the ground floor of several long-abandoned retail outlets, signaling the start of construction of something shiny, new and — for my money — rather exciting. Tenth Avenue has some new loft apartments, with more on the way.

And, oh yes, we have that highway construction under way along Interstate 40, with the new direct-access ramp being built onto I-27; TxDOT crews are widening and improving the freeway east and westbound. Yep, it’s a bit of a mess out there — for the time being.

I’m kind of reminded more or less of the old Vietnam War saying about how U.S. troops occasionally had to “destroy a village in order to save it.” Perhaps that’s overstating it a bit, but I trust you’ll understand what I mean, which is that the city needs to erect these  obstacles temporarily while crews work to create something brand new.

Progress sometimes isn’t pretty. Amarillo’s progress is proceeding at what seems like an accelerating pace, which I hope means a quicker end to the ugliness that will precede what we all hope will be a gleaming new central business and entertainment district.

I’m willing to wait for as long as it takes.

Cadillac Ranch keeps drawing ’em off the highway

cadillac ranch

Maybe you’ve seen these cars as you’ve sped along Interstate 40 through Amarillo.

If you haven’t taken time to stop your vehicle, walk a few hundred yards south of the freeway and spray-paint some graffiti on one or more of the vehicles, perhaps you haven’t quite lived a full-enough life.

Ralph Duke, a local photographer, snapped this recent picture of the Cadillac Ranch, the renowned creation of one of Amarillo’s more, um, colorful characters.

Stanley Marsh 3 and his merry band of artists stuck these cars into the ground about 40 years ago. They’ve become one of Texas’s premier roadside attractions. The Caddies are so ingrained into Amarillo’s identity, they are noted on the official state highway map, the map with the picture of the governor and his wife. You’ll see their location marked with a red dot with the words “Stanley Marsh’s Cadillac Ranch.”

One of my sons lives in Allen with his family. Whenever he comes for a visit, a quick trip to Cadillac Ranch is a must-see for him. He swears that Stanley Marsh communicated with space aliens using underground transmitters wired to the cars.

Marsh got into some legal trouble a few years ago. Some young men accused him of sexual abuse. Marsh died a couple of years ago and some residents actually began clamoring for the Caddies to be removed from their location just west of the Amarillo city limits to protest the allegations that were leveled against Marsh.

Fiddlesticks! They should stay.

Whenever I drive by them, I think of a time I had taken an out-of-town visitor to see the cars. A big tour bus pulled up and out of it poured about three dozen or so tourists. I started chatting one of them up. He was from Australia, as were the rest of his bus mates. They were traveling from coast to coast and stopped in Amarillo to gawk at Cadillac Ranch.

The young Aussie was dumbfounded. “Who in the world does this? Who sticks cars in the ground like this?” I gave him the 30-second elevator speech that it was done by someone with a lot of time on his hands … and a lot of money in his bank account.

Then I said, “Welcome to America.”

He and I both laughed.

The Cadillacs have been painted in rainbow colors to honor the victims of the Orlando, Fla., slaughter. They’ll be “decorated” again with graffiti, if they haven’t been already.

Whatever. They provide a reminder to those just passing through of the brand of weirdness that can make people smile.

First big RV trip: a rousing success

This is the latest in an occasional series of blog posts commenting on impending retirement.

We can declare our first-ever multi-state, multi-day trip in our recreational vehicle to be a success.

And a rousing one at that.

We shoved off from Amarillo the morning of March 21 and arrived back home just yesterday. Our travel took us to Mesa, Ariz., where we met up with my sister and brother-in-law, who had driven their RV from just north of Vancouver, Wash.

We had a serious blast with them, enjoying the sunshine, a bit of fellowship with fellow RV owners encamped at the park in Mesa and visiting with our aunt and uncle, who live about an hour’s drive south of the Phoenix area.

Except for a couple of mechanical issues we’re going to resolve with the folks who sold us our fifth wheel, our trip began and ended well for us.

But we did learn a valuable lesson while towing our 28-foot RV: Do not venture somewhere until you know for certain whether you can be comfortable getting there — and then coming back out.

We pulled out of the RV park Friday morning to start our trip home, but then we decided to take a gander at an attraction called Tortilla Flats, about 25 miles or so northeast of Mesa along an Arizona state highway. We looked at our map and assumed we could keep on going to a more significant highway once we finished visiting the attraction, which was billed as a replica of a ghost town.

You know what they say about assuming … yes?

Tortilla Flats sits along a very narrow road, with plenty of curves, switchbacks and, I should add, some seemingly harrowing areas. We hauled our fifth wheel through and along all of it en route to Tortilla Flats. For a bit of the trip in there, the road was bordered on side by rocky cliffs and the other side by, well, a serious drop-off into a bright blue lake full of boaters and kayakers.

I had a nightmare scenario of getting the fifth wheel too close to the edge and being pulled into the drink backward by the plummeting RV.

We got there just fine, but then learned that getting out would present a bit of a challenge. The paved road became an unpaved road once we got past Tortilla Flats. We were advised by a young restaurant waitress that we should just go back the way we came in.

Well, OK. But to get turned around, we had to take the RV up a dirt hill, onto a parking area and get it pointed in the right direction for the return trip back to Apache Junction. It required us to back the thing up.

We sized up our turning area and decided we could get the truck and the RV lined up to back up in a straight line enough to get it turned toward the right direction.

So … we did.

And out we came. Back to Apache Junction, back to the main highway and off toward Payson, Holbrook and then on to Gallup. N.M., for a night’s stay.

We breezed home along Interstate 40 the next day.

All is good. Our fifth wheel has been cleaned of the bugs that splattered it on the way to Mesa.

Once we get the mechanical issues resolved, we’ll be ready to ride.

 

Drug-bust stories becoming … um, boring

“Police grab drugs in ‘traffic stop.'”

You hear and read these headlines all the time. I almost always chuckle when I see these stories. Why? Because the traffic stop, such as it is, usually is something of a ruse. The police pull motorists over expecting to find contraband hidden away.

http://www.newschannel10.com/story/28575346/dps-finds-15-pounds-of-marijuana-on-i-40

Texas Department of Public Safety troopers have gotten really good at this.

The Interstate 40 corridor across the Texas Panhandle usually is among the most lucrative for DPS traffic troopers of any district within the state police network.

How do these troopers do it? As I understand it, they “profile” motorists as they blaze their way along I-40. If the motorist or a passenger looks suspicious when they pass a DPS trooper, the officer will give chase. Then they just might find something in the trunk of the car, or stuffed under the seats, or duct-taped to the undercarriage a “controlled substance” of some sort.

The War on Drugs, which has produced mixed results — and that’s the best thing I can say about it — has made law enforcement officers quite proficient at intercepting drugs on our major highway corridors.

Have these “traffic stops” done anything to curb the manufacture, sale, distribution and use/abuse of these drugs? Not one bit.

However, I continue to marvel at how good the police have gotten at this endeavor.

To be sure — as any cop on the beat will tell you — none of these “traffic stops” ever can be called “routine.”