The new, four-lane stretch of U.S. Highway 12 has been much anticipated. Yet, its opening has been plagued by a variety of sign issues stemming from miscommunication, lack of planning and some old-fashioned flubs.
When the new stretch of highway opened there were no signs directing tourists to the wineries off of the Old Highway 12. Business for those wineries literally fell off the map.
Adding to the woes was that not all of the exits and entrances were complete, which made it tougher to get to the wineries for even those looking for them.
Signs have now been placed but the winery owners are finding it's not enough.
"It does affect us tremendously," said Debbie Hansen, co-owner of Cougar Crest Winery, which is off Frenchtown Road. "Signage is going to be instrumental in making our businesses able to continue to do well."
"This is just a huge, huge mess," said Ronn Coldiron of Glencorrie Winery.
Adding to the irritation has been the wrong road signs posted on the old section of roadway that's officially been renamed Old Highway 12. The state Department of Transportation put up signs identifying the road as Vintage Loop.
Early in the planning process, winery operators in that area talked of renaming the roadway either Winery Loop or Vintage Loop to help consumers find their way to the wineries. But county officials took a pass on those monikers and went with Old Highway 12.
State Department of Transportation officials apparently didn't get the memo. Now that the DOT has been alerted new signs are on the way.
And then there are the signs on the new highway directing folks to the Blue Mountain Mall. These signs would seem to be the handiwork of the Department of Are You Kidding?
Sure, they do provide a few laughs for locals, but will only frustrate tourists. Some who follow the signs in search of the demolished mall might think they took a wrong turn to a bombed-out section of Beirut.
Clearly things could have - should have - been handled better.
Still, this series of gaffes shouldn't take the luster off this new four-lane highway. The good far outweighs the bad. The new highway is a lot safer and will save lives.
But state and local officials (as well as those at the Department of Are You Kidding?) should learn from this episode. When the next section of highway is complete steps should be taken to make sure signs are in place and exits and entrances are open so businesses aren't hurt.
In the meantime, county officials are taking serious the current problem facing the wineries on Old Highway 12. To their credit, county commissioners are working with wineries to get privately funded signs in place so tourists can more easily find tasting rooms.
The current problems will soon fade and we will be left with a much safer road to the Tri-Cities.