Macon’s interstate welcome sign still waiting for permanent home

lfabian@macon.comJanuary 4, 2013 

Thousands of interstate travelers don’t know what they’re missing as they head south through Macon.

The granite “Macon 1823” sign installed to welcome Olympic tourists in 1996 was removed more than two years ago from near the F. Emory Greene Memorial Bridge over Interstate 75.

It will likely remain out of sight for months to come.

Come to think of it, even when the 10-ton sign anchored a hill off the busy highway, it was basically out of sight.

“It was placed in the worst place in the history of the world where you could only see it by helicopter,” said county Parks and Recreation Director Dale “Doc” Dougherty.

Now, the chunks of pink granite are stacked behind the department’s offices at Central City Park. They will likely stay there months longer as there are no immediate plans to reinstall the sign.

Landscape architect Wimberly Treadwell, a volunteer on Macon beautification projects, said she has not yet been able to secure permission from the Georgia Department of Transportation to erect the marker in a more visible location along the interstate.

“I sort of got mired in GDOT,” Treadwell said Friday.

She doesn’t blame state planners, though, because they are not accustomed to dealing with requests for monuments. “The people at GDOT are not unreasonable, they just don’t have a process,” she said.

The more logical spots for a “welcome sign” would need state approval, she said.

In the past, the state has been very careful not to let anything be installed that could interfere with mowers.

The DOT no longer maintains every interstate interchange, though.

Beginning in 2008, the Transportation Department began awarding GATEway grants, an acronym for Georgia Transportation Enhancements. Under a GATEway grant, Macon City Council agreed to mow and maintain the Mercer University Drive interchange in exchange for $50,000 in site preparation, plants and landscaping.

Treadwell hopes as more communities and organizations begin taking care of interchanges, the DOT will set guidelines to allow the sign to be placed where it can be seen.

She plans to continue pursuing the project and identifying a visible spot.

When Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful originally secured $50,000 in private funding for the 40-foot long tribute to the city’s founding, the marker was designed to be erected upright near the city limits, facing traffic.

After approving the sign itself, the DOT would only allow the stones to be placed off to the side, flush with the ground and parallel to the flow of traffic in order to meet federal safety guidelines.

The only way to read the sign was to turn your head. At 55 mph, you had to look very quickly.

But it was the city that had to act fast in September 2010 when the DOT ordered the sign removed immediately to make way for road construction, Dougherty said.

He recalled an emergency budget acquisition of a couple of thousand dollars was needed for a crane to remove the slabs of granite.

But only recently have road crews begun to work on that hill.

The indentation from the sign’s 13 pieces did not look like it had been touched as of Friday afternoon.

In the meantime, the giant rock puzzle sits disassembled on planks of wood behind the old livestock barns.

Dougherty said several locations have been floated, including placing it at the Mercer University Drive exit.

“Mercer’s the only one with a hill and once you get past Eisenhower (Parkway) you get that feeling this is Macon,” he said.

The grassy slope in front of Rose Hill Cemetery has also been suggested, but that location would not see as much traffic as the interstate.

Gateway Park near the Otis Redding Bridge was discounted as a suitable location years ago because there is not enough space near the road.

Finding a location is only the first step. Someone will have to pay to have the sign moved and placed.

“We have to figure out where we can get the money,” Dougherty said.

The DOT’s own budget woes forced the cancellation of last year’s GATEway grant applications.

To contact Liz Fabian, call 744-4303.

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