The Ottumwa Courier

February 4, 2014

City looking at possible sign additions on bypass

Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA — The bypass that winds around the northern part of Ottumwa can bring a lot of traffic around the city, but it is getting that traffic to actually come into town that is the tricky part.

To help show out-of-town drivers all of the amenities that Ottumwa has to offer, Mayor Tom Lazio has asked City Councilman John Richards to assemble a committee to look into adding signs along the road promoting the various attractions around the city.

“We need appropriate signage that will indicate an attractive community and will bring traffic to the community,” Richards said.

Once drivers realize there are places to stop to eat, stay or fill up their gas tanks in Ottumwa, according to Richards, the local businesses could really benefit. The signs could help draw a larger crowd into the city from the bypass, where they will spend money that could help boost the city’s economy. Plus, drivers who are looking for Bridge View Center, The Beach Ottumwa or one of the other attractions in the city can be easily directed to their locations from the bypass.

The problem, Richards says, is that when drivers are on the bypass, they can’t see Ottumwa or the gas, lodging, food and entertainment stops that sit just a mile or closer from the road.

“We don’t have signage to tell people there’s a golf course or a hotel or motel,” Richards said. “If you don’t know the area, it is tough because you can’t see Ottumwa from the road.”

When drivers approach the first Ottumwa exit going west on Highway 34, Exit 191, there are no signs that promote Ottumwa as a place to stop. Richards wants to see that change, but there are some hoops that have to be jumped through in order to make that happen.

First off, the city of Ottumwa cannot put its own signs on a state highway. There are fences that run along each side of the highway, and inside those fences is considered state property. So, any sign that is put up inside of the fences has to be state mandated.

However, the land that is outside of the fences is owned by the county unless sold to someone else. For that land, the city and Wapello County can enter into a municipal signage agreement, where the county will agree to let the city put signs on the county’s property.

If that agreement was reached, the city would then be able to make its own signs to promote Ottumwa and all it has to offer. But, there is a lot that has to be done first, according to Richards, such as getting the right people in the community involved.

“Our next step is to begin pulling entities together that have an interest to ensure cooperation,” he said. “The big thing is teamwork.”

In a time when Ottumwa is looking to strengthen the economy of the city, one solution, according to Richards, is to simply promote all the city has to offer to those driving by.

— To see reporter Josh Vardaman's Twitter feed, go to @CourierJosh