Tag Archives: TxDOT

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.


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.