They say first impressions are important, and for travelers crossing the Oregon-California border north on U.S. 199, their first impressions of our state now comes in a familiar shape.
The new ‘Welcome to Oregon’ sign on Redwood Highway in Josephine County has been greeting folks entering Oregon since September 2021, but the sign was over a decade in the making.
In 2011, Rogue Valley area residents celebrated a newly installed ‘Welcome to Oregon’ sign on Interstate 5 at the California border. Their pride in the new Oregon-shaped greeting radiated west to the Illinois Valley/Cave Junction area, where a group of local residents looked at their ‘Welcome to Oregon’ sign on U.S. 199 and vowed to upgrade the small, plain placard to match the majesty of the one on I-5.
Roger Brandt of the Illinois Valley Community Development Organization pitched his idea to ODOT’s Highway District 8 managers. He envisioned a sign that used large timbers as sign supports, reminiscent of the U.S. Forest Service signs installed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the Pacific Northwest during the 1930s.
The ODOT team loved the idea and wanted to help, but there was just one problem: the estimated price tag for the new sign was $100,000.
“Signs aren’t cheap,” said Jeremiah Griffin, Interim District 8 manager. “I think their cost surprises some people. And $100,000 was a hefty chunk for us to pay out of district funds.”
Griffin and the team tried to make the numbers work, but in the end, they didn’t have the cash to make the sign a reality.
The local residents championing the sign understood the bind, but without funding, local gusto for the sign lapsed, and the idea faded in the community.
Several years went by without movement on the project, but it stuck in the minds of several ODOT staff members. They were determined to find the money and deliver on their promise to residents.
An idea reborn
Then, a few years ago, the team hit on a solution: the Emerging Small Business Program. The program helps small Oregon businesses get contracts with ODOT. As long as the awarded business and contract fit the criteria, District 8 could use those program funds to cover the sign costs.
Now that the sign had the money and the might, it was time to resurrect the original community design from back in 2011.
“We wanted to give the new sign the Illinois Valley flair and stay true to the request of the community group and true to our welcoming style here in southern Oregon,” said Griffin.
Adam Stallsworth, ODOT District Operations coordinator, took over as project manager, working with Griffin and ODOT Senior Structural Design Engineer Bob Grubbs. They created a final design that used the same I-5 welcome sign template, but added a three-tree accent reminiscent of USFS signs in the area, a feature from the community’s original vision. Equity is one of ODOT’s three top priorities in the agency’s Strategic Action Plan, and working with communities to create unique solutions furthers that goal.
Another fun fact: the rocks at the base of the sign are the same kind found in the Illinois River bed, a clever nod to the valley’s unique features.
Construction on the sign wrapped up last fall. Long term, Griffin says they plan to add lighting for the sign, and maybe install a TripCheck camera, if they can solve some connectivity issues.
But overall, he’s happy with how everything turned out.
“To me, this sign represents that community and the Illinois Valley very well. And U.S. 199 is a busy corridor, so we’re proud to be able to welcome people to our state with cool-looking sign that came from community input.”
Roger Brandt, the Illinois Valley community member who originally pitched the sign idea, agrees.
“It (the sign) portrays the rugged heritage of our region,” he said. “We thank ODOT for contributing to our efforts to adopt this style of signage in the southwest Oregon community of Illinois Valley.”