Tag Archives: TxDOT

And what about that highway work?

AMARILLO, Texas — I’ve spent a lot of blog time and cyberspace commenting on the progress shown in downtown Amarillo.

I’ll continue to do so.

A return this weekend to Amarillo, however, reminds me of the kind of headache that most cities should welcome. Highway construction!

Wow! Driving into Amarillo westbound on Interstate 40 is a serious challenge. When I watch projects of this magnitude proceed I try to picture what the finished product will look like. I cannot yet form a picture in my mind’s eye what I-40 will resemble when the Texas Department of Transportation work crews finish their job.

It’s gigantic, man!

I am aware of the griping that’s gone on since the beginning of statehood back in 1845 about how Austin doesn’t know the Panhandle exists, how the power center concentrates its collective mind on the needs of those down yonder.

My own sense is that the construction work under way along I-40, as well as along the southern end of Loop 335 (another highway under state jurisdiction) as well as along Interstate 27 at the extreme southern end of Amarillo tells me that Austin is well aware of the Texas Panhandle.

I will continue to beg for patience from my former fellow Panhandle neighbors as they navigate through the chaos that has developed along I-40, I-27 and the loop. I’ll need it, too, when I return periodically for the foreseeable future.

Let’s all be strong together. The virtue that is patience will pay us off.

Patience will be stressed

I guess I am somewhat liberated these days. I can speak about all the road work ongoing in Amarillo, Texas, even though I spend most of my time in our new home in Fairview, just north of Dallas.

I happen to agree with a letter to the editor published in the Amarillo Globe-News about the need for patience as the city and the state repair roads, bridges and highways seemingly in every corner of the city.

“Let us all relax, be patient, and this too shall pass – just not in the construction no-passing zone, please,” writes Alan Tinsley, an Amarillo resident.

Check out Tinsley’s letter here.

I’ve sought to counsel the same thing for years. I will admit that my own patience has been tested at times as I drive through Amarillo.

But I do try to keep some things in perspective. After all, it could be a whole lot worse than waiting to get through an intersection that’s being rebuilt. We could be recovering from devastating floods or heavy wind; our health could go south on us in a flash.

As my wife and I return to Amarillo on occasion, we’ll get to experience the progress as it develops without experiencing some of the hassles of navigating through the work in progress.

To my friends and neighbors in the Panhandle, just keep in mind: There’s an end to it. You will like the finished product.

An alternative to the SH 130 race track uncovered

LOCKHART, Texas — I am happy to report a bit of good news to you as a follow up to an earlier blog post about getting caught on the race track that also is known as Texas 130.

We found our RV camp location at Lockhart State Park, after some difficulty finding our way off of Texas 130, and its posted 85 mph speed limit. That’s all fine. It’s history.

What we discovered is that U.S. 183, which is the highway we intended to take from Austin to the state park, actually runs parallel to Texas 130.

It serves as a sort of frontage road for the nearly 30 miles we need to drive from visiting family members to the place where we’ve parked our fifth wheel RV for a few days.

Good grief, man! If I could have found this highway the first time — the day we arrived in the Austin area — I wouldn’t have had so much angst to share with you in that earlier blog post.

As it turns out, U.S. 183 allows us to cruise along at a “leisurely” 60 to 65 mph, while we watch the speed demons roar along at breakneck speeds just a bit over yonder on Texas 130.

What’s more, we get to do so without being charged a toll.

Who knew?

Life is full of surprises, yes? Some of them are nice surprises to boot!

 

Happy Trails, Part 90

LOCKHART, Texas — It’s time for me to come clean.

I once wrote an essay about a Texas state highway that I swore I’d never travel. It is Texas 130, a stretch of toll road between Austin and San Antonio.

Why come clean? Our retirement journey took us to Texas 130 this afternoon. This is the highway with the 85 mph speed limit. Eighty-bleepin’-five miles per hour, man!

I was alarmed enough that the Texas Department of Transportation allowed motorists to blast along Interstate 10 west of San Antone at 80 mph.

But … 85 mph?

That was the last straw. I am not prone to breakneck speeding on the highway. I won’t poke along, but I cannot fathom having to keep up with my fellow travelers who are so willing to drive faster than most sane motorists would travel.

Well, we ventured to Central Texas from San Angelo today. Our trusty GPS hasn’t been updated to include some of the new construction that’s been finished.

Suddenly, without much warning at all, we ended up on Texas 130 with our fifth wheel in tow behind our Dodge pickup. How in the world did that happen? Well, I don’t know. It doesn’t matter.

We blundered our way to our next RV campsite at Lockhart State Park. We found a suitable site. We got hooked up. Then we sat under some shade trees to enjoy an adult beverage. We toasted each other for “navigating” our way through the highway chaos that exists in Austin.

As for Texas 130, I now intend to renew my vow to never return to it.

We’ll spend the next few days visiting family in the Austin area. And by golly, we are going to do all we can to stay far away from the state-sanctioned race track disguised as a public thoroughfare.

Wish us luck. Please.

Happy Trails, Part 83

A dear friend has told me that “Happiness is Amarillo, like Lubbock, in your rear view mirror.”

Perhaps. But not entirely.

You see, I am going to miss several aspects of living in the Texas Panhandle. One of them involves the progress my wife and I witness almost daily as we make our way around the city.

Amarillo residents know all too well about the intense highway construction that’s under way along Interstates 40 and 27. They’re rebuilding bridges over I-40. State crews are hard at work along Loop 335 on the southern edge of the city.

I am going to miss watching those projects proceed.

Downtown Amarillo is undergoing an extreme makeover, highlighted by construction — which has just begun — on the multipurpose event venue. The city has made great strides toward the future in the past couple of years, but there remain many miles yet to travel.

I will miss watching downtown continue its march forward.

Amarillo in reality bears little resemblance to the community my wife and I saw when we arrived in early 1995. It has grown up a good bit over the past 23 years. I am not referring just to the population growth.

The city’s airport has been modernized. The stretch along virtually the entire length of I-40 through Amarillo has witnessed a boom in hotel construction; a month barely went by when we didn’t see more hotel construction sites opening up — and more are going up even as I write this brief blog post.

The city has done well during our time here and we have enjoyed watching it evolve.

I will miss watching that evolution continue.

Here’s the thing, though: We’ll be able to return to see the results.

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.

Let the landscaping proceed! Woo hoo!

For a moment this morning en route to a meeting in downtown Amarillo, I thought my lyin’ eyes might be deceiving me.

I approached the Intersta te 40/27 interchange and noticed work crews doing something I’ve yammering about for, oh, seemingly forever.They were digging up the turf at the interchange. Some of the crew members were planting trees. I noticed some more site work as I made the turn onto the ramp.

Can it be possible? Can it be that the Texas Department of Transportation and the city have begun implementing the beautification agreement that Mayor Ginger Nelson said had been struck?

If what I saw is, indeed, what I hope it is, then we are witnessing a serious (in my view, at least) fulfillment of a campaign promise.

Mayor Nelson pledged to make public right-of-way beautification one of her goals while she ran for the office.

I won’t take a shred of credit for seeing this work being done, despite my stated — and repeated — exhortations toward this end.

However, I do want to join those who have said the same thing, which is that the highway rights-of-way through Amarillo present a terrible image to those who are just breezing through.

They need serious work. If my eyes aren’t deceiving me, then I believe we are witnessing an important step toward improving Amarillo’s image.

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 baseĀ  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.”