What do you think of the new signs? Leave your thoughts in the comments section at the end of this story.
Whoa there, traveler!
What's your hurry?
Nebraska is a big place, and there's a lot to do and see — and the place to start paying attention is along Interstate 80.
Large, green aluminum panels have alerted millions of I-80 travelers to the State Capitol in Lincoln, Buffalo Bill's Ranch in North Platte, Chimney Rock near Bayard and other destinations down the road. Those markers will soon be replaced with new traffic-stopping signs.
At least that's the hope of the Nebraska Tourism Commission.
Each poster-style sign features a big, bold image of the attraction, the name of the attraction and the VisitNebraska.com website on a sky-blue background. Exit and mileage information is included in a black bar across the bottom.
The idea is to alert travelers to some of Nebraska's unique attractions, said Kathy McKillip, director of the State Tourism Commission in Lincoln.
“The days of apologizing for not having mountains and beaches are over,'' she said. “We've got plenty that people want.”
Nebraskans have been too humble about touting their state's heritage and cultural attractions, McKillip said.
Only agriculture and manufacturing bring more money into Nebraska than does tourism. Travelers spent nearly $4 billion in the state in 2010 on trips away from home with overnight stays in paid accommodations and on day trips to places 100 miles or more away. Travel spending generated about $583 million in annual tax revenue.
Annual spending in Nebraska on these trips has increased by more than $2.3 billion since 1990, according to the tourism commission. Travel spending accounted for 45,600 Nebraska jobs in 2010.
McKillip said that regardless of whether travelers may have heard of Fort Robinson State Park, the Hastings Museum or Fort Kearny State Historical Park, seeing a bold, colorful sign may persuade them to take time to visit.
“That's our hope,” she said.
There are 37 state-owned attraction signs along I-80 between Greenwood in the east and Kimball in the west.
Plans call for the first 10 new signs to be installed before travelers hit the road for the Thanksgiving holiday in November. The 27 others are to be in place before next summer.
Only attraction signs currently along I-80 will be replaced. No signs are being created to promote attractions not previously showcased on state signs — but a few that encouraged shortcuts to destinations in other states will be revised, McKillip said.
For example, a current sign near Utica notes that the exit is a route to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming and the Black Hills in South Dakota, via the Sand Hills.
The new sign will feature the Sand Hills via Scenic Byway Highway 2, and eliminate references to Yellowstone and the Black Hills.
“We want to encourage people to travel our scenic byways, instead of showing them the fastest way to get out of our state,'' McKillip said.
Some of the current signs are 40 years old and worn out or damaged by exposure to sun, hail and tornadoes.
“There's a lot of wear and tear, and some are hanging by a toothpick,'' McKillip said.
Nebraska's first attraction signs were installed inside the I-80 right-of-way in 1972. The Federal Highway Administration ordered the signs moved outside the right-of-way two years later. A few of the signs have been updated over the years to change names of attractions but most are originals, said Matt Neemann, Nebraska Department of Roads traffic control engineer.
McKillip said state tourism officials have talked for years about the need to repair or update the signs, but the project was considered too expensive for the agency to tackle. The tourism commission's budget of about $4.6 million ranks seventh among 11 regional states.
Nearly a year ago, state tourism and roads officials met again to discuss the sign problem and eventually agreed to share the cost of replacing the signs. Funds to produce the signs will come from the tourism commission, and the Roads Department will handle installation.
Each new sign will cost about $4,300 to produce, McKillip said. The final price tag for production of all 37 signs will be $159,100.
The signs will be visible to people in thousands of vehicles traveling I-80. At Greenwood, between Omaha and Lincoln, the Interstate carries more than 38,700 vehicles daily, according to the latest Roads Department statistics. At Kearney, the total is nearly 19,000. In the southern Panhandle, the total is about 7,200.
Nebraska's redesign was inspired by new welcome signs erected at highways and visitor centers across Utah two years ago, McKillip said. The signs feature a colorful, geographically specific image depicting stunning scenery and Utah's “Life Elevated'' brand.
Iowa's Transportation Department replaces its destination signs as needed under a $1 million annual program, said Tim Crouch, state traffic engineer in Ames.
During the seven hours it takes to drive the 456 miles of I-80 across Nebraska, travelers will be exposed to 20 new signs in westbound lanes and 17 signs in eastbound lanes.
“We hope they spark interest, mystery and intrigue,'' McKillip said.
Contact the writer: 402-444-1127, firstname.lastname@example.org