Tag Archives: Interstate 40

Will this highway work ever end … ever?

AMARILLO, Texas — OK, we haven’t been away all that long from the city we called home for more than two decades.

However, upon our return for a brief visit, my wife and I had hoped to see some tangible progress in the seemingly interminable construction that is ongoing along Interstate 40.

Silly us.

I am acutely aware that civil engineers can see progress. I don’t want to speak ill of the hardworking construction crews, particularly as they toil in 100-degree and the incessant wind that rips across the Panhandle; so I won’t speak ill of them.

Our drive along I-40 from near Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport, though, was fraught with discomfort as we pulled our fifth wheel RV westward toward the RV park where we will spend the next couple of nights.

These heavy-duty jobs send my mind into flights of fantasy. I keep trying to picture in my mind’s eye what the finished interstate highway will look like once it’s done. I had hoped to get a clear vision of what awaits when we arrived in Amarillo. Sadly, I am not there … yet!

Hey, maybe I need to see some renderings. Or some detailed plans.

We’ll depart Amarillo soon for points north and west. We don’t know when we’ll return. I fully expect, though, to hear plenty of griping and moaning from our former neighbors here as they seek to weave their way through the construction barrels along the narrowed construction lanes.

I’ve preached patience before about these projects. The payoff will be a highway that presumably will be safer, roomier and more conducive to safe highway travel.

I’m just waiting — with my own brand of patience — to see greater steps toward its conclusion.

Loop 335 to take center stage yet again

Take a gander at this picture, notably the sign identifying Helium Road. It’s in far west Amarillo, Texas. It runs north-south west of Soncy Road.

Eventually, Helium Road is going to become a very important thoroughfare for the region, just as Soncy Road was supposed to be when it was built so many years ago.

The Texas Department of Transportation recently had one of those ceremonial groundbreaking events signifying the eventual start of construction along Helium Road. TxDOT is going to turn Helium into a newly relocated Loop 335, which circles Amarillo.

Loop 335’s western section now runs along Soncy Road. It has been a serious puzzle to me for years. When TxDOT built Soncy, it did not create a thoroughfare that allows motorists to use the loop as it should have been used: as a way to bypass city traffic.

Soncy Road has become, well, just another busy street. Starting at Interstate 40 and heading south, traffic often slows to a crawl with motorists pulling in and out of strip malls, business malls, a couple of major automobile dealerships, restaurants and a newly developed residential complex.

Loop 335 does not exist as a loop the way, for example, Loop 289 exists in Lubbock. Loop 289 is a raised highway that circles Lubbock; there is limited access on and off the loop. It functions as a bypass highway.

Loop 335 as it has been allowed to develop has turned into something quite different at least along that westernmost quadrant.

Well, Helium Road is about to be torn to pieces. TxDOT will extend the loop past Soncy and run it along Helium. There will be serious disruption along Helium. Indeed, there exists an RV park where my wife and I often stay when we return to Amarillo in our fifth wheel; the RV park sits right on Helium Road, just north of I-40.

So, I’ve got a bit of skin in that particular game.

I don’t know when the work will begin. Nor do I know how long it will take. I am quite certain that Amarillo motorists who have grown weary of the incessant interstate highway construction on I-40 and I-27 will be gnashing their teeth once the work starts on the “new” Loop 335.

My best advice? It’s not much but it’s the best I can do.

Be, um, very patient.

Yes, the city surely has ‘changed’

My wife and I are continuing to make new acquaintances in our new home in Collin County and as we do, we routinely tell folks from where we moved.

We came here from Amarillo, we tell folks. The response is varied. “Oh yeah. I’ve been through there. Have you eaten the big steak?” is one. “Hey, that Palo Duro Canyon is really something,” is another.

We met a fellow the other day who said this, “I go to Amarillo frequently. Man, that city has changed!”

Yeah. It has. I didn’t take the time to ask what precisely he has noticed about the changes he has observed, although I did offer my own brief observation.

“The downtown district is nothing like it used to be,” I told him, “and it’s still undergoing an amazing transformation.”

Indeed, the city’s change has been dramatic.

We moved to Amarillo in early 1995. I went to work at the Globe-News’ office downtown. I was struck by how quiet it was. I learned of the “main drag” that used to run along Polk Street. The blocks between Seventh and Ninth Avenues were virtually desolate.

They are no longer desolate. There has been a tremendous infusion of business activity along Polk. And along Buchanan Street. So, too, along 10th Avenue.

There’s tremendous construction clamor occurring as crews work to finish ongoing projects. The Potter County Courthouse complex restoration has transformed the courthouse square. County commissioners have just voted to proceed with a $54 million construction of a new courts building.

And, let’s not ignore Hodgetown, the new ballpark that is getting the finishing touches in time for the Amarillo Sod Poodles’ home baseball opener in a couple of weeks.

The medical complex on the far west end of the city is growing. Texas Tech University is pushing ahead with construction of a college of veterinary medicine in Amarillo. Medical clinics are popping up throughout the area.

Texas highway planners are tearing the daylights out of Interstates 40 and 27. City street repair is diverting traffic throughout the community.

Has the city undergone change? Uhh, yeah! It has!

Part of me wishes we could watch it unfold in real time. A bigger part of me enjoys seeing the result of all that effort upon our occasional return trips to the place we called home.

Amarillo still ‘Matters’ to this group

A political action group formed two years ago to help elect a slate of candidates to the Amarillo City Council is back at it.

Amarillo Matters, which comprises some well-funded, well-known and successful business and civic leaders, is working to re-elect the council members it helped elect in 2017. They’re all running for re-election this year.

What strikes me as strange — even from my now-distant vantage point — is that Amarillo Matters is being demonized by challengers to the incumbents. For what remains a mystery to me.

I’ve seen the Amarillo Matters website, read its profile, looked at its mission statement. It says it works to develop “positive opportunities” for the city. It vows to be free of conflicts of interest. Amarillo Matters says it believes in “limited government.”

There’s more to the website explaining this group. You can see it here.

It’s a high-minded group with noble goals, ambitions and causes.

The way I view the city now that I no longer live there is that Amarillo has continued nicely on its upward trajectory during the past two years. Downtown continues its revival; the city streets are under significant repair and renovation; the state is tearing the daylights out of Interstates 40 and 27, but that, too, shall pass; Amarillo economic development gurus have gone all in — with significant amounts of public money — on Texas Tech’s plans to build a school of veterinary medicine in Amarillo.

I have to ask: Is this all bad? Is this a reason to toss aside the city’s leadership?

It’s not that everything is peachy in Amarillo. Sure, there are problems. What American city doesn’t have them? The city needs to devote more money and attention to long-neglected neighborhoods, but I hear that the city is aiming to do precisely that.

I keep hearing whispers about feather-bedding, favoritism and assorted accusations of malfeasance. So help me it sounds like sour grapes from those who aren’t deriving some sort of direct financial benefit from all the good that is occurring in the city.

This economic system of ours means that individuals benefit as well as the community at large. I see Amarillo Matters as the positive influence it purports to be. Thus, I do not grasp the basis for the negativity coming from those who seek further “change” in the direction the city has taken.

From my perspective, the city is doing just fine.

Coming back to familiar haunts … and headaches

AMARILLO, Texas — We all love to return to familiar haunts. Of that I am quite certain.

My wife, Toby the Puppy and I have returned to Amarillo for a couple of days. She and I will attend a concert downtown and then we will return to Fairview, where we now call home.

But returning to Amarillo almost always is a joy for me. I love the feeling of familiarity. It’s a sense of belonging. I don’t need a telecommunications navigational device to guide me from place to place. I can travel quite literally from one corner of this city to another and know my way without the aid of some fancy technological gizmo.

We’ve lived in Collin County for several months. We have returned to Amarillo frequently during that time, taking care of family matters and so forth. We no longer have many of those needs, although we do enjoy spending time with one of our sons, who still lives here.

Our sense of belonging is coming to us steadily in Fairview. We know our way around our neighborhood and a bit beyond. Getting from one end of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, however, presents a whole universe of challenges we don’t face when we return to Amarillo. I’m certain you get my drift. The Metroplex is home to about 7 million individuals, compared to around 200,000 who live in Amarillo. You get the idea.

We’re getting acclimated just fine in the Metroplex.

Now, a return to Amarillo would be damn near perfect were it not for one major impediment: road construction.

I can handle the Interstate 40 and I-27 work. The Texas Department of Transportation is rebuilding the highways that split the city essentially into thirds. The city street department, though, has many streets under repair. Getting through the construction zones is a challenge … to say the very least.

Turn lanes are closed off. Some streets now are “grooved” while crews scrape the top finish off of them. You’ve got flaggers everywhere. The city is awash in orange: cones, signs, barrels.

I know I should be patient. Indeed, I have said as much on this blog. I am doing my level best to exercise patience and maturity as I navigate my way through this mess.

It’s a chore. Bear with me as I struggle to keep my sanity behind the wheel of my car.

I still do enjoy returning to familiar haunts.

Amarillo no longer ‘ignored’ by state

It’s hard for me to believe that at one time many residents of Amarillo and the rest of the Texas Panhandle felt “ignored” by the powers that be way down yonder in the state capital in Austin.

Every now and then I still hear the occasional gripe that Austin doesn’t give a damn about Amarillo, or the Panhandle, or those who live there. Those who say such things — or think them privately — need to get out more.

I’ve moved away from there but I return on occasion with my wife. I am amazed at what I see transpiring along the city’s major highways.

I see dozens, maybe hundreds, of work crews toiling to renovate Interstates 40 and 27. I see dozens of trucks, front-end loaders, backhoes, road-grading equipment and assorted vehicles of all shapes and sizes  with “Texas Department of Transportation” decals plastered on the doors.

No longer can anyone with a straight face complain about Amarillo being “ignored” by the state.

I don’t know what the dollar figure is on all this work, but it’s got to be in the mid- to high eight figures.

A former state legislator, Republican David Swinford, was known to grumble out loud about the lack of attention Austin was paying to the Panhandle. I arrived in Amarillo in January 1995 to become editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News. I met the Dumas lawmaker shortly after arrival and asked him whether it was true — as I had heard — that he wanted to split the Panhandle off from the rest of the state. Swinford didn’t deny it categorically and said that he was miffed that the state didn’t pay the Panhandle enough attention.

Well, I guess my old buddy David Swinford has seen his wishes come true.

These work crews are tearing up the highways, not to mention along Loop 335 along the southwest corner of the city. Eventually, TxDOT will begin work extending the loop along Helium Road about a mile west of Soncy Road.

I look forward to watching this all take shape from some distance — except when my wife and I return to do battle along the I-40 as we enter from the east.

You’ve heard it said to “be careful what you wish for”? These days, the grumbling I hear in Amarillo speaks mostly to there being too much attention being paid by the state.

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.

Shameful sign removed … for real?

Media are reporting something good coming out of something hideous.

Fox News says that ghastly sign that invited “liberals” to “please continue on I-40 until you have left our great state of Texas” has been taken down.

I don’t live in the Texas Panhandle these days, so I’m left to take the media outlet at its word, that the sign is gone. It had been erected in Vega, Texas, just a bit west of Amarillo.

I’m wondering now about the why and by whom. Why did the person who put the sign up decide to remove it? I’ll hold out some glimmer of hope that whoever is responsible for it got shamed into taking it down.

The billboard that contained the sign is owned by Randy Burkett, a former Amarillo City Council member. He served a single term from 2015 to 2017, then decided he wouldn’t seek a second term.

Good deal, yes? Given his ownership of this billboard, I’d say “yes, definitely.”

Such a closed-minded point of view on a well-traveled public interstate highway sends a chilling message to those passing through. Their unmistakeable takeaway is that people with a “liberal” or “progressive” world view are not welcome here.

What the hell kind of message is that to send in a nation that is supposed to welcome all kinds of thought and political expression?

I do hope the message is gone. I also hope it stays gone.

As for who put the sign up and then took it down, may this individual — whoever he or she is — decides to exercise at least a modicum of discretion when expressing a political point of view.

That’s the spirit … of a closed mind

Oh, this is such a great country. It enables anyone to speak for what passes as their “mind,” no matter how moronic, idiotic or hateful his message might be.

This sign has gone viral throughout the vast social media network. It sits along Interstate 40 near Vega, Texas, a nice town just west of Amarillo. I used to live in Amarillo. This sign has given me my first pangs of relief that I no longer live in a community where this kind of closed-minded thinking is so damn pervasive.

Randy Burkett owns the sign. He runs an outdoor advertising company. He served for two years on the Amarillo City Council. Then, in 2017, he decided against running for a second term. I am one voter who is glad he took a hike and removed himself from elected public office; my hope is that he never returns to the elected public arena — ever again!

There once was a time when this country represented inclusiveness. It welcomed all sorts of thoughts, beliefs, points of view. Sadly, the message displayed on this billboard offers a grim reminder of a thought that used to be expressed openly throughout the Texas Panhandle.

Do you recall the John Birch Society, one of the forebears of what’s been referred to these days as the “alt-right”? Birchers were — and still are — supreme isolationists. They want the United States to pull out of the United Nations. They were the godfathers (and godmothers) of the “America First” movement now espoused by the likes of Donald John “Stable Genius” Trump Sr. They wanted no part of any internationalism in our country. They used to plant signs in Amarillo that demanded that we “Get U.S. out of the United Nations.”

Now we see this kind of message springing up?

It is shameful in the extreme to telegraph this kind of closed-mindedness to the thousands of travelers who blow through the Texas Panhandle daily along I-40.

Yes, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution grants individuals such as Randy Burkett the right to spew this message. It also gives folks such as me the same right to call it what it is.

Trash.

Where are the cops when you need them?

I don’t like using this blog as a forum for complaining about municipal services … but I’ll make this brief exception.

The Amarillo Police Department needs to post a traffic officer at the intersection of Amarillo Boulevard and Soncy Road around, oh, 5 p.m. every work day. The huge medical center’s work force is heading for home about that time.

If you’re traveling in either direction along The Boulevard, it’s impossible to get through the green light — which is the signal for motorists to proceed.

Why is that? Because motorists who are southbound on Soncy are blocking the intersection because traffic has backed up north of Interstate 40. That’s why!

I’m looking out of the city’s financial condition here. There’s lots of revenue to be gained by police issuing tickets to those who block intersections, which I believe is in violation of city traffic ordinance.

I also am looking out for the peace of mind of motorists who get caught by fellow motorists who aren’t courteous enough to keep the intersection clear while they wait to proceed.

There. My rant is now over.