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Frank Gray

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Signs will be costly, but pretty, addition

This month the city announced that it was dipping into its Legacy fund to put up a series of Wayfinder signs to direct motorists to places like the zoo, the ballpark and shopping areas.

The city revealed what the signs will look like – blue and green and black with big white letters. They seem quite attractive.

The signs – there will be 54 of them – will cost about $300,000.

That caught my attention; $300,000? That’s $5,500 a sign. You can buy a decent used car for that.

So I talked to some city officials about it.

I’m not in the sign business, but that strikes me as awfully expensive.

Well, I was told, I’m the only person who has expressed any surprise at the price.

Why so much, I asked?

Well, the $300,000 price tag is an estimate, I was told.

Bids could come in higher or lower, but they’ll probably be in the $300,000 range.

These won’t be ordinary signs, like stop signs, yield signs or children playing signs that you can pick up for a few dollars from the city.

These Wayfinders are going to be placed on major thoroughfares and streets with multiple lanes and high speed limits, so they have to be big – big enough that people driving 45 mph can see them and read them.

They will be big, 4 feet by 8 feet, the size of a sheet of plywood.

They’ve got to be anchored in strong foundations so the next time a derecho comes blowing through (a derecho is the type of storm that snapped off trees and power poles all over the city in the summer of 2012) the sign will stand its ground and not go flying into traffic.

The signs and poles will be made of aluminum, which bumps up the price, and they will all have a special coating to make sure they last for years.

Maintenance is a big expense, I was told, so putting up signs that can be maintenance-free will save money in the long run.

Plus, each sign has to have breakaway hardware so when someone runs into one of the signs, which is almost certain to happen, the pole will break away.

Reading the bid specifications on the city’s website also made me realize a few things.

First, you need an engineer to read the specs and make sure the work is done right.

The city requires performance bonds and heavy insurance for crews putting up the signs, and there’s something called traffic management.

While you have one crew digging the foundations and pouring the concrete and installing the signs, you’ve got to have another crew handling traffic that will be disrupted while the crews are at work.

Well, I realized, I guess signs aren’t cheap.

I could question whether they’re really necessary. People have GPS units in their cars and iPhones that provide directions.

When you think about it, though, the signs will do more than just point people in the direction of whatever they’re looking for.

Maybe it’s a good idea having big signs on the main drags of the city, letting travelers going nowhere in particular know that the Coliseum is this way, and the baseball stadium is that way, and some other facility is over there. It’s a way of advertising just what the city has to offer.

I’m a little calmer now. I know a lot more about signs than I did a week ago.

I think the signs will be attractive.

Just a note to the city’s motorists. Don’t run them down. They’re expensive.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.