SPOONER, Wis. -- Now that we are starting to see the back end of the virus that changed the world as we knew it, we need something else to interest us.

I recommend the next time you head to town, or drive anywhere, to count the road signs, not the advertising signs, just the official ones. Stay with me here; there is a point to all of this.

When we all studied the road manual rules to get our driver's licenses, we learned that the red signs meant stop, green signs were distance, direction, and destination, blue signs were hospital, yellow ones were for warning, and white signs were the speed signs.

Since then, signs have become big business because now, everything has to be marked plainly in our sue-happy society.

Even though the Washburn Highway Department only needs an employee and a half to take care of all two hundred lane miles of county roads and approximately three hundred and seventy two-lane miles of state roads, it's an endless job. Stop signs, along with every other road sign, have branched out from their original size to some huge ones at dangerous intersections. Some of the super big stop signs are ringed with flashing red lights or just one large flashing light at the top.

Brian Danielsen, Highway Commissioner since July 2019, is certainly up to the job of keeping Washburn County roads and their signage running smoothly.

A Spooner graduate in 1998, Brian excelled in math and science and also chemistry and physics. Naturally, he became a Civil Engineer and now has more than seventeen years of extensive construction experience working on projects all across Wisconsin, ranging from building small bridges to major pavement replacement projects on the Interstate.

The county department is in charge of the condition of the roads from chip-sealing, which is applying oil and then rock chips to the roads, to marking the center lines and putting up signs; some 6 feet 3 inches from the white fog line to others on the four land highways that are located 7 feet 3 inches from the fog line.

They are also responsible for snow plowing, mowing, rehabilitating roadways, paving, and repairing/replacing road signs.

Speaking of signs, it's a little-known fact that the wooded posts on the more prominent signs have holes drilled six inches and then again eighteen inches above the ground. These are the holes that allow signs to break away instead of possibly causing someone's death in the vehicle that comes in contact with the sign. Naturally, the larger the sign, the more posts are required. Each post size with its own depth at which it must be dug. Charts are followed to decide on the number of posts and depth of embedment based on the signs' surface area.

All signs on the county system have been surveyed and can be located by GPS. They are all tracked on a spreadsheet documenting the sign type and installation date. Each sign has a sticker on the back indicating when the sign was manufactured. Most signs last ten years before needing to be replaced and the aluminum signs are recycled. Wood signs are now becoming a thing of the past.

The Highway Department has a section of its building just for signs. These signs might indicate the home of a deaf child, truck weight limits, or detours. Signs that are changed more often are the bus stop ahead signs. When there are no longer children living at the residence, bus stop signs are moved to new locations. This can only be accomplished by having good communication with the bus garages.

Believe it or not, the yellow speed signs are only a suggested speed.

The white speed signs need to be followed precisely, but the yellow ones suggest the highway department makes for the safest speed based on how fast you can safely drive around curves. It's still your choice to slow down or speed around a curve and end up in the swamp.

The sign shop no longer makes the signs, and most of the ones they need are purchased from vendors. One of those vendors being the Bureau of Correctional Enterprises. That's right, the prison system. They make thousands of signs for multiple counties.

Signs for which the Highway Shop is not responsible for maintaining are the large signs with steel supports on USH 53 and traffic control signs for the Department of Transportation (DOT) road construction projects.

When a state highway is under construction, the contractors building the project are responsible for all signage. Starting this year and going through the end of 2022, the Trego Interchange will be constructed.

Trees are being cleared now, with construction starting shortly. Soon there will be temporary stoplights at Highways 53/63. When the project is finished, there will be a new bridge over 53 and roundabouts on both sides of 53, with 63 being moved along the Wild Rivers Trail. The at-grade intersection will be similar to the CTH E and STH 77 intersection this summer. The new intersection will be similar to the CTH B and USH 53 intersection south of STH 70 with the exception that you will be able to turn directly onto STH 77 from USH 53.

Next year, 2022, major construction will begin in Spooner on Highway 63, which travels the entire length of the city.

Deer Crossing signs will soon be signs of the past. Next year's herd won't necessarily cross where this year's do. Detour signs and Bridge Out Ahead will come and go. But, the next time you're heading south out of Spooner towards Shell Lake on Highway 63, make sure you notice my favorite green sign (distance and destination) in front of the motel across from the State Patrol headquarters.

I've always found this sign of being rather odd. I would have thought that the second town listed would be Cumberland or even Turtle Lake. By default, they are the following two towns, but the rule of thumb for the (DOT) is to list the next most popular town if they can't find a significant city to list that's on the same highway.

So there you go, Cumberland and you too Turtle Lake. Baldwin has outranked you. Anybody ever been to Baldwin? There are some great garage sales there and more and more places to eat before you merge onto Interstate Highway 94, but really, Baldwin? It's not the end of the line for no reason.


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