Area intersection an early adopter of new highway marker

An intersection in Hettinger County recently became one of the early adopters of the newly-redesigned highway marker signs. Drivers heading north on Highway 22 can see the new signs at the intersection of Highway 21 and Highway 22, nine miles south of New England.

An intersection in Hettinger County has been marked with two of the new highway signs. The new signs feature an outline of North Dakota, replacing the Red Tomahawk silhouette used since 1923. (Photo by Cole Benz/The Herald)
An intersection in Hettinger County has been marked with two of the new highway signs. The new signs feature an outline of North Dakota, replacing the Red Tomahawk silhouette used since 1923. (Photo by Cole Benz/The Herald)

By COLE BENZ
Herald Editor | cbenz@countrymedia.net

An intersection in Hettinger County recently became one of the early adopters of the newly-redesigned highway marker signs. Drivers heading north on Highway 22 can see the new signs at the intersection of Highway 21 and Highway 22, nine miles south of New England.

The old ones, featuring a Native American, will be slowly replaced by ones featuring the outline of North Dakota, according to North Dakota Department of Transportion spokeswoman Jamie Olson. The original design has been in place since 1923, and was based on the silhouette of Marcellus Red Tomahawk, a famous Lakota Native American who is most known for shooting and killing Sitting Bull in 1890.

Olson told The Herald that this change falls under their department’s standard sign-replacement portion of the NDDOT’s budget, so it won’t add extra expenses at a time when the state is facing their own budgetary crisis.

“Nope, no excess money was put into [the new signs],” Olson said.

The process to changing out the signs officially began this construction season, according to Olson. The NDDOT will be slowly transitioning to the newly-designed signs as needed to keep from exceeding their budget.

“In order to not exceed that budget we’re doing it slowly, so that rather than going and doing it all at once, which would cost a lot of money because there are a lot of signs,” Olson said. “If we just do it slowly as the signs need replacing then we’re just utilizing that budget that we typically have every year.”

Olson said there are three reasons a sign would need to be replaced: damage, exceeding their lifespan, or due to a new construction project. This could be why only one sign at the intersection south of New England has been switched out.

She said the signs, if left undamaged, can lose their integrity and effectiveness after being out in the elements for a period of five to 10 years.

“After so long [the sign] loses the reflectivity,” Olson said.

So why make the change now?

Olson said that the NDDOT made the internal decision to change based on a few factors. She said one was uniformity, most states feature highway markers that also carry the borders of their state. She also said it was the NDDOT’s hope that this change can signify the investment they have made in transportation in recent years.

“We’ve made historic investments,” Olson said.

The department will also be celebrating their 100-year anniversary, and they thought it would be another way to honor the big celebration.

When asked about moving away from the Native American design due to any public comment, or issues with sensitivity towards Native Americans, Olson said it was discussed but not the deciding factor.

“That wasn’t why it was made, although it was something we acknowledged,” she said. “When we were talking about this we knew that that was a sensitive topic, that was a part of our discussion but it wasn’t the reason we changed it.”

A more detailed image of Red Tomahawk is currently used in the logo of the North Dakota Highway Patrol, but as far as Olson knew, nothing would be changing with that department.

Olson said there are over 4,000 signs that stand on North Dakota state highways, and said the transition could take up to 10 years.

“We’re just doing it as a needed basis,” she said. “It’ll take some time.”

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