Stimulus Will Go Miles In Arizona

Officials in Arizona are spending part of the state's stimulus money replacing some unique road signs. They're on a stretch of Interstate 19 and they list distances in kilometers. The signs were put up as a test as the country got ready to adopt the metric system in the 1970s.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

In Arizona, stimulus money will be used on one highway to bring an era to an end. It's an era that never really began. NPR's Ted Robbins went for a drive on Interstate 19 and sent this post card.

TED ROBBINS: I-19 runs 63 miles - make that about 103 kilometers from Tucson south to the Mexican border. It was finished in 1972, right about the time of the government's metric push. So the road sign I'm driving past right now says Green Valley, 20 kilometers, Amado, 40 kilometers, Nogales, 80 kilometers.

Mr. CLIFF PEMBERTON(ph): We live in America and it should be American. It should be American - it was, you know, things that we're used to.

ROBBINS: So it should be miles?

Mr. PEMBERTON: I believe so, yes.

ROBBINS: The Arizona Department of Transportation says it's gotten countless reactions like that one from driver Cliff Pemberton over the years. By now, all the signs need replacing, but the state hasn't had the money to do. So when the government set aside a half billion dollars in stimulus money for Arizona roads and bridges, bingo: a million and a half was approved for new road signs. Kathy Gordon lives near I-19.

Ms. KATHY GORDON: I am very happy to see it change back, because we have this little section that you have to go, oh, yeah, that's right. It's not what I just saw two miles down the road.

ROBBINS: The state transportation department says the project will put eight people to work for eight months installing the signs, plus others pouring concrete and making the signs. Of course, if you like your road signs in kilometers, you can just keep driving into Mexico.

Ted Robbins, NPR News, on Interstate 19 in southern Arizona.

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