Tag Archives: TxDOT

Be patient, Amarillo neighbors

If our plans work out as we hope, my wife and I won’t be living in the Texas Panhandle when they remove the final construction cone or barrel from the myriad road and highway projects underway in Amarillo.

We will have relocated to North Texas, where we’re quite certain we’ll get to witness even more such construction.

I watched my friend Sonja Gross — Texas Department of Transportation public information officer for its Amarillo Division — offer some sound advice on a TV news broadcast to Amarillo residents.

Be patient, she said. The payoff will occur when the road work is done and we can all get around more easily.

TxDOT is in the midst of some major highway infrastructure makeovers.

Interstate 40 between Helium Road and Grand Street in Amarillo is undergoing a major renovation and expansion; Hollywood Road south of the city is being redone; TxDOT has built that direct-access exit from I-40 to the Canyon E-Way, but it’s not yet open for traffic; crews are tearing I-27 apart south of the interchange; crews are building a new bridge across I-40 at Bell Street.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much orange in my entire life.

I’ll agree with those who gripe about the road work that it is a pain in the posterior at times. It occasionally is difficult to navigate through the city. I get their frustration, as I feel it at times myself — although I occasionally get angry at myself for letting my frustration get the better of me. I figure that if being delayed a few minutes is my greatest worry, then I’m doing all right, compared to the troubles that so many others have to endure.

Amarillo, though, is going through a serious renovation at many levels. TxDOT’s work on the highways suggests that the state has committed considerable amounts of public money to this region in an effort to improve our infrastructure. How can we complain about that?

Indeed, as state Sen. Kel Seliger said this week at a Rotary Club of Amarillo meeting, Texas remains a “commodity” state that relies on good roads to get commodities, such as cattle and corn, from “their source to their destination.”

Those roads and highways don’t achieve excellence all by themselves. Human beings need to tear them up, put them back together and then ensure that they’re renovated properly — and safely.

I endorse Sonja Gross’s plea to our fellow Amarillo travelers. Our patience might be tested on occasion, but there will be a reward when they remove those cones and barrels.

Guaranteed.

Amarillo is hardly a Texas ‘outpost’

I hereby declare that never, ever again should Amarillo consider itself to be some sort of remote outpost in the great state of Texas.

My example? Take a look at all the money, manpower and machinery at work repairing, renovating and rebuilding the highways that course through this city.

Interstate 40, between roughly Quarter Horse Drive and Soncy? Serious rebuilding is underway. Interstate 27 from the I-40 interchange south to 34th Avenue? More reconstruction. I-27 northbound from 26th Avenue? More of the same. Loop 335 on the southern edge of the city? Ditto, man!

I am unaware of the total dollar cost the Texas Department of Transportation is spending on all this work. I’m pretty sure it’s in the high tens of millions.

Let’s flash back for a moment.

I was working in Beaumont in 1991 when I heard about a freshman legislator from the Texas Panhandle who suggested openly that the state needed to partition itself into several parts. This fellow didn’t like the way state government allegedly “ignored” the Panhandle. My initial reaction was, shall we say, not terribly flattering toward this gentleman.

Four years later, I moved to Amarillo and became acquainted with state Rep. David Swinford, a Dumas Republican. I asked him about his desire to carve up the state. He smiled and didn’t deny that was his intent, although it seemed to me at the time that he was only half-serious — or maybe he was half-joking … whatever.

We developed a good professional relationship over the years. I became convinced that Swinford’s desire in 1991 might have taken off had it earned any support from legislators downstate.

Suffice to say today, though, that Amarillo hardly sits at the edge of some desolate frontier. The state ended up building two prison units here about the time Swinford took office; Texas Tech University installed a pharmacy school near the city’s complex of hospitals and medical clinics.

I surely have heard how Amarillo is closer to the capitals of neighboring states than it is to Austin. And, yes, I’ve heard multiple tales of how President Johnson allegedly closed the Air Force base  here because he was mad that so many Panhandle counties for voted for Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential election.

But … that was then.

On this very day — and for the foreseeable future — Texas highway construction is telling us that the state is acutely aware of Amarillo’s importance to the rest of Texas.

Mayor delivers on State of the City address

I had this gnawing feeling in my gut when I ventured this morning to the Amarillo Civic Center.

My gut was warning me of a possible happy-talk recitation from Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson who pledged to offer her view of the State of the City.

To her great credit, the mayor in effect told my gut to settle down. No need to worry about that. Instead, Nelson proceeded to tell a Grand Plaza Ballroom packed with attendees that the city has made great strides already, but has a good bit more distance to travel as it is “Getting it Done” for the city’s 200,000 residents.

Indeed, Nelson today put quite a Getting it Done-themed agenda looking forward on the record. She laid down a terrific benchmark to take forward next year — and for years after that.

This is the kind of speech that residents need to hear from the City Council’s presiding officer. Granted, under Amarillo’s voting plan, the mayor represents precisely the same citywide constituency as the other four council members; everyone on the council is elected at-large. The mayor is given what Theodore Roosevelt used to call the “bully pulpit” and this morning I heard Amarillo’s first-term mayor use that pulpit with effectiveness.

Much is going well in Amarillo, Nelson said. The city maintains a low municipal property tax rate; the city’s downtown district is moving forward and soon construction will begin on a $45.5 million downtown ballpark that will be home to a AA minor-league baseball franchise.

Amarillo’s police department is reinvigorating its community policing program under the guidance of Police Chief Ed Drain. The city is opening police substations in minority neighborhoods and putting officers in closer touch with the neighborhoods they are patrolling.

The city is working to improve North Heights living conditions and plans to focus soon on The Barrio and San Jacinto, Nelson said.

But we haven’t reached nirvana, the mayor cautioned.

Response times from police and firefighters need to improve, she said. The city needs to boost its educational level; only 22 percent of Amarillo residents have earned a bachelor’s degree or better, Nelson said. The city is ranked by the FBI as one of Texas’s “most dangerous cities,” according to Nelson.

“We have an epidemic of illegal dumping in our alleys,” Nelson said. There needs to be “better planning” between the city and the Texas Department of Transportation as it regards the enormous amount of road work that’s under way, the mayor said.

The city must do a better job of improving the physical appearance of Interstates 40 and 27 as they course through Amarillo, she said, although she noted that the city has instituted a new schedule for mowing the rights-of-way.

She urges residents to “buy local,” noting that business and sales tax revenue has slipped a bit in recent years. She laid the blame for the sale slippage on “online shopping.” Nelson said buying local ought to be an “easy” goal for residents to achieve if they intend to support their community.

It’s easy for elected municipal officials to tout the good news and give the challenges the short shrift when speaking to a public audience. Mayor Nelson did not do that this morning.

My major takeaway from her State of the City speech is that she set the table for more speeches that will communicate where the city continues to fall short … and where it is “Getting it Done.”

Happy Trails, Part 37

Oh, the best-laid plans can go awry.

For example, we had intended to venture south and east later this year, when the weather cooled, and the Gulf of Mexico hurricane season had subsided.

We have a lot of friends in the Golden Triangle, where we lived from 1984 until 1995. We had plans to haul our RV south to our former hometown to catch up with many of them.

Oh, wait!

Something happened down yonder. Right? Of course!

Hurricane Harvey came through. The storm crashed ashore first in the Corpus Christi-Rockport region along the Coastal Bend. Then the storm waded back into the Gulf, picked up some more steam and returned to the Triangle as Tropical Storm Harvey.

It dumped a lot of rain. It set a continental United States record at more than 50 inches. 

Now I hear that the Texas Department of Transportation is going to embark on a monumental task. It must repair roads and highways damaged by the storm. According to the Texas Tribune:

Prolonged flooding can wash out bridges, knock down traffic signals and signs and cause asphalt to buckle. Last week, the federal government directed $25 million to the Texas Department of Transportation to help the agency begin repairing the region’s vast transportation system.

But that funding won’t last very long, said TxDOT Deputy Executive Director Marc Williams.

“The size and the duration of this storm is beyond anything we’ve ever experienced in this state,” he said.

When do we plan to return to the Golden Triangle? I don’t know. I can’t project when TxDOT will get all the highways fixed. I am not even aware at this moment whether any of the highways over which we might travel are affected.

We do want to get back. We want to see our friends. We intend to hug their necks and express gratitude and thanks that they’re all OK.

I am not one to trifle, though, with Mother Nature. Nor am I going to wish for TxDOT to speed up its infrastructure repair just to suit my wife and me. It’ll take time. We’ll be patient.

Hating the feeling of utter helplessness

You know the feeling, I’m sure.

Mother Nature levels her immense power onto a region of this great country and you are left only to wish the very best for those who are being affected.

I won’t suggest that “All I can do is pray.” A clergy friend of mine has reminded us many times over the years that “Prayer isn’t the least we can do; it’s the most we can do.”

So we are left to pray and hope for the very best for those being devastated by Hurricane Harvey’s unthinkable rage.

Social media have offered a pretty good device for those in harm’s way to tell the rest of us that they’re safe and sound. My Facebook news feed is full of such assurances and for that I am grateful on behalf of our many friends throughout the Houston and Golden Triangle areas of Southeast Texas.

Here we sit, though, a good distance away from the havoc. We’re perched way up yonder on the Caprock, high and dry and enjoying the sunshine at nearly 3,700 feet above sea level. The Texas Department of Transportation is advising motorists to avoid travel to the Gulf Coast. If only we could transport ourselves into the storm to lend a hand to the friends we have retained many years after leaving Beaumont for a new life in Amarillo.

And, no, I don’t intend to ignore the misery that has befallen all the good folks who are coping with the storm’s wrath.

So … what is there to do? Except pray.

I can do that. However, it does nothing to assuage my feeling of helplessness.

Motorists require extreme patience

One of my few virtuous traits is getting tested to the hilt.

That would be patience, the kind I usually exhibit while I’m driving a motor vehicle through my city, Amarillo, Texas.

I came home today from across town. It took me far longer than it used to take. Why is that? The first cause would be obvious: growth in population and motor vehicles on our city streets. The second cause is construction, lots and lots of road construction.

There once was a time when I joked that Amarillo didn’t have a morning and early-evening “rush hour.” I called it a “rush minute.” You could get anywhere in Amarillo in less than 20 minutes. That’s how it used to be in the mid-1990s when my wife and I arrived here.

We had a house built in southwest Amarillo. Our property was literally one block from the western border of the city. There was nothing west of Coulter Street … except for pasture and the cattle that grazed on it. The summer sunsets were spectacular, as we could watch the sun dip just below the horizon very late in the day.

Then the Greenways housing development sprang up. Boom! Like that we witnessed urban sprawl develop in real time right before our eyes.

Now the highways are being rebuilt. Interstate 40 east of the Canyon E-Way interchange is a serious mess. The interchange itself is being modernized and brought up to date with a direct-access ramp for eastbound I-40 traffic onto the southbound E-Way.

Patience, anyone?

Well, I’m going to cling desperately to what remains of my very own level of patience. Pray for me, if you please. I’ll do the same for you.

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.

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.

Xeriscaping … that’s the answer

EL PASO, Texas — I am in the mood to follow up on an earlier blog post relating to the terrible appearance of Amarillo’s freeway interchange.

I have a one-word potential solution: xeriscaping.

My wife and I have seen it in this city, where water is even rarer than it is in the Texas Panhandle. Interstate 10 and U.S. 54 come together in the middle of the city. We proceeded north on U.S. 54 and noticed that the xeriscape technique used to beautify the highway continued to the edge of the city.

Amarillo mayoral candidate Ginger Nelson has declared highway right-of-way appearance to be among her signature issues. She said she plans to “develop a plan for annual and long-term repairs and maintenance of streets, as well as the construction of new streets as the city grows.”

This isn’t rocket science. We ain’t reinventing the wheel. There’s not much genius required to provide Amarillo a better appearance to passersby who motor through the city en route to points hither and yon.

My wife were two of those passengers who blew through El Paso. We noticed right away the attractiveness of the right-of-way. We took that first impression with us, and we plan to remember it every single time we drive through Amarillo’s Interstate 40/27 interchange, which contains festering weeds and little else.

Xeriscaping can be done with virtually zero water use.

We live in a semi-arid climate, yes? If it’s too costly to maintain a right-of-way with greenery, then use tons of gravel and some sparse vegetation to dress it up.

It works in El Paso. It can work in Amarillo.

Fix the interstate ‘curb appeal’ … please!