The highway sign welcoming Quebecois visitors to Vermont's capital city — in French — has disappeared.
For years, drivers approaching exit 8 on I-89 in either direction knew they were close to Montpelier when they saw the green sign that read: "Welcome to Montpelier Capital of Vermont — Bienvenue a Montpelier Capitale du Vermont."
That sign vanished recently when the state started replacing all the signs along I-89 as part of a $6.9 million federally-funded safety initiative. The new one that replaced it is English-only.
Seven Days recognized the glaring, culturally insensitive omission and called around to see what's up. Are we suddenly snubbing our neighbors to the north? Mais non, says Vermont Agency of Transportation spokesman John Zicconi.
"They were taken down and replaced by mistake," Zicconi says. "The new sign was made and put up without the French and was supposed to include the French. So we will make that change. Once it went up we realized what had happened. There was a miscommunication somewhere."
Alors, why was the French sign put there to begin with? According to Zicconi, the Vermont Legislature decided several years ago it wanted a French welcome sign for Quebecois visitors.
Vermont is under federal mandate to get all its highway signs replaced by 2015. The new signs have bigger typeface and are more reflective — which is intended to make them easier to see and read in all weather conditions. The new signs' bases and polls are "breakaway" so they flex and bend if a vehicle hits them.
The project is 100 federally-funded — from highway funds, not stimulus money. Zicconi says the money is designated specifically for safety enhancement projects.
"It's not a pot of money that could be used for anything, like bridge repairs or paving," he says. "So we're not doing the signs and not putting up a bridge. It's a completely different bucket of money that doesn't have a cross over."
Alors, how much will the botched sign cost to replace? Zicconi couldn't say for sure, because highway signs cost different amounts, depending on their size. But he notes that the new white-and-yellow "Move Over" signs — which measure 5.5 feet by 11 feet — cost $5000 apiece.
"That doesn't mean every sign is $5000," he says. "Some are cheaper, some are more expensive."
No word on how soon the French welcome sign will reappear.
"We talked about it the other day when we realized the mistake was done," Zicconi says. "We recognized it, we acknowledged it and we'll fix it."