AUSTIN, TX— More than 100 people made the nearly 500-mile trip from Amarillo to Austin for ‘Panhandle Day’ at the State Capitol Tuesday.
An opportunity that comes once every two years, when the Texas legislature goes into session, this is the time for local officials to bring issues and concerns from Amarillo to the attention of lawmakers.
“Right now we have zero discretionary funds out of $10 billion over this decade,” said Amarillo Mayor Paul Harpole. “We’re here just to remind the entire legislative body that we need discretionary funds.”
Harpole met with the Chairman of the Transportation Commission and the heads of the Texas Department of Transportation Tuesday morning to try to secure funding to finish the 335 loop project.
“It’s very important, we are a transportation hub, we’ve got to take care of that infrastructure it’s crumbling if we don’t,” said Harpole.
The city has one of the highest rates of interstate travel in the state.
On average, about 50,000 heavy-load trucks drive through Amarillo a day and those trucks represent nearly half of all the traffic on I-40.
“That’s resulted in 7 bridges that are condemned for heavy loads – can’t carry them through Amarillo, we have to get our loop in place so we can relieve some of that traffic,” Harpole said. He added TxDot and the Transportation Commission agreed, “something needs to be done,” said Harpole.
The 100-plus people from the Panhandle split up into small teams to squeeze in as many meetings as possible in the two-hour window before the Texas House and Senate gaveled into session.
This divide and conquer strategy helped the group make the most of the Panhandle’s Capitol Day.
Over the course of two hours, those teams brought ideas and concerns from Amarillo to attention of state lawmakers. Along with stops to the offices of individual legislators, teams met with the departments of Agriculture, Natural Resources, Education, Healthcare and Transportation.
“We want to make sure that when those committees are meeting and they’re discussing appropriations and they’re discussing changes that Amarillo is at least somewhere on their minds and not forgotten about,” said Jason Harrison, Vice President of Business Development and Governmental Affairs for the Amarillo Chamber of Commerce.
Because Amarillo officials already work closely with state representatives from the Panhandle, Harrison said the group tried to stay away from familiar faces to forge new relationships with legislators from outside the region.
Teams focused on the heads of State Senate and House committees from some of the state’s biggest cities.
“They don’t really know Amarillo—they don’t understand how important I-40 is to us,” Harrison said.
“We just want to make sure we’re getting our fair share and that we’re being heard,” said Harrison.
State Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, read the proclamation on the Senate floor and Rep. Four Price R-Amarillo, did the same in the Texas House.
“We are proud to call this region our home,” said Rep. Four Price.
Sen. Seliger recognized the people who traveled to Austin as “some of the most fortunate people in America. Fortunate because they live in the Texas Panhandle,” said Seliger.
He pointed out that in the center of the Panhandle is Amarillo but many city officials skipped the ceremonious readings to continue on with back-to-back meetings.
This was a very quick trip, after arriving in Austin Monday afternoon, many went straight from the Capitol to the airport to fly back to Amarillo Tuesday evening.