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Closing in on a welcome sign?

By The Mercury

It’s good to know that the idea for a sign atop one of the Kansas River bridge piers welcoming people to Manhattan is alive and well.

The idea has surfaced on several occasions since the old K-177 bridge was torn down in the 1990s and replaced with the present bridge. The Kansas Department of Transportation has long since removed the debris — except for the bridge piers. That’s because local residents, including Blaine Thomas of Thomas Sign, were impressed enough by the piers’ art deco style and historic value to ask the city and county to preserve them. KDOT complied.

There they’ve stood for about 15 years. To some, the piers remain intriguing; to others, they’ve become eyesores. There’s little question they’re well situated for a welcome sign, but genuine progress has suffered from logistical, financial and creative obstacles.

Those issues linger, but at least KDOT has given its informal OK to a sign on the east pier.  KDOT’s approval matters because it never turned the piers over to local governments and controls the easement for the highway. As a Mercury story Tuesday indicated, although KDOT will allow a welcome sign, the agency balks at either digital or LED messages on the sign. That’s not surprising, given KDOT’s safety concerns, but it’s discouraging for supporters who’ve hoped the sign could advertise community events. The proposed sign is attractive, even distinctive, and the typeface and greater design blend well with the pier itself.

City and county governments generally support the project, but neither has expressed a willingness to commit funding to the sign. Nor should either be expected to.

Advocates, particularly Bart Thomas, Blaine’s son, along with Phil Anderson and former County Commissioner Jim Williams, hope to begin raising $50,000 to restore the east pier and build and install the sign once local approval is assured. We wish them success, and we’re confident they can gain the support of many in the community.

We hope so. The Thomases have argued that in addition to once helping to connect both sides of the Kansas River, those historic piers also constitute a bridge to Manhattan’s past. A tasteful welcome sign would be an appropriate way to retain and display a piece of that heritage.

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