Between the Lines

Between the Lines by David Lias Vermillion people no doubt will never forget the initial effect caused by the opening of the Newcastle/Vermillion Bridge this fall.

The city�s streets were fuller, occupied by a sizable number of automobiles with Nebraska license plates.

People from Newcastle and Ponca and other small towns in northeastern Nebraska no longer had to drive for more than hour to get to Vermillion.

Now, it takes only about 15 minutes to drive from Newcastle to Vermillion.

What my wife and I found ironic, as we were working in our front yard on the first Sunday that the bridge was open, was that not everyone on our side of the Missouri River knew the route to the bridge.

A gentleman and his wife, out for a drive on the pleasant day, pulled in front our house and stopped.

As I walked toward the driver�s car, he rolled down his window. The car sported South Dakota license plates, from Clay County.

�Can you tell me how to find that new bridge?� he asked.

One could tell that he was a bit uncomfortable having to ask directions, and perhaps a bit frustrated, too. I got the impression that he may have done a lot of driving around, trying to find the route to the new span.

This should be a cinch, I thought. I�d been out to the bridge construction site several times last summer. I knew the way.

But I could tell by the look on the poor man�s face that I wasn�t helping him much.

I told him he first needed to get on Main Street, and pointed out how to easily do that.

Then he had to cross the Vermillion River over the Main Street bridge that�s near Cargill.

�I think I�ve been over that bridge,� he said. �There�s grain elevators near it, right?�

�Right!� I said with excitement, confident that I was getting the guy on the right track.

But Cindy, while raking leaves, was putting two and two together. There was a very good chance that this man had been driving around in lower Vermillion, looking for the link to the Newcastle/Vermillion bridge down there.

�Psst,� Cindy whispered. �I think he�s talking about the Dawson Bridge.�

He very well could have traveled over the Dawson Bridge. But I wasn�t about to take any chances. He was above the bluff now, and I was determined to tell him the best way to his desired destination.

So I explained the Main Street bridge route again, and the fact that Vermillion has two elevators near bridges, and he wanted to cross the bridge that�s near Cargill to get to Highway 50.

Then he had to turn left on Highway 50, and travel west until he saw a green sign pointing out Timber Road.

�You have to turn off Highway 50 where the Timber Road junction is, but make sure you don�t take Timber Road. Make sure you turn left on the other paved road there after you turn off Highway 50,� I said.

�But won�t that take me back to Vermillion?� he said. That�s when I knew the poor guy had probably been trying a variety of streets and roads, but hadn�t been able to find the right one.

That was understandable. The new span over the Missouri River had just opened. No signs had been put up yet.

�You mentioned Timber Road,� he said. �How do I find that again?�

I suddenly found myself speaking jibberish. A highway engineer I�m not. I found myself grasping for the right terminology.

Is it an exit? A junction? A turnoff? My mind was racing. �Timber Road connects to Highway 50 with a ?�

The only term I could think of at the moment was �turn lane thingy� but I wasn�t about to start talking like 2-year-old to the poor guy.

Then I remembered how, as I child growing up, I always knew where I was while traveling the country roads around our farm. We simply memorized all of the landmarks.

�You�ll know that you�re getting close to the place where you need to turn off of Highway 50 when you see a clump of big trees, and a welding shop,� I said.

The man thanked me, and as he rolled up his window, I could tell I really hadn�t helped the poor guy. His face had the same confused expression as when he stopped for help.

I�m punishing you all with this mournful tale because, sadly, things haven�t improved that much for people who want to find the bridge.

There are no big bold signs on Highway 50, or on any any other street in the proximity of the route to the bridge that tells motorists they are on the right track.

Vermillion City Engineer Bill Welk asked the state to put up the needed directional signs. The state�s response, according to a memo from Welk to the Vermillion City Council: �They (the state) will not place signs directing motorists to Vermillion or Nebraska nor will they allow signs in their right-of-way to be placed by the city. They feel that the highways are signed with the highway numbers and that is adequate ?�

We ask state officials to pretend the Newcastle/Vermillion Bridge is one of the most popular fast food restaurants in the nation, and they are the owners. Would they refuse to place signs on Highway 50 directing customers to their business?

Of course not. They would likely follow the example of Vermillion�s major business owners along Cherry Street, who lure customers to their places with billboards and lighted signs.

The state needs to change its policy. The signage directing motorists to the Newcastle/Vermillion Bridge is woefully inadequate.

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