It turns out the highway sign celebrating the UNC-Chapel Hill basketball championship that went missing from its posts along Interstate 40 last month didn’t go all that far.
The green sign with white letters was found Thursday in the weeds beside the North Harrison Avenue ramp onto eastbound I-40, less than 100 yards from where the N.C. Department of Transportation had erected it. In addition to being unmoored from its wooden posts, the sign had “some spray paint damage,” said NCDOT spokesman Steve Abbott.
NCDOT has not decided yet what to do with the sign, Abbott said.
The sign was one of eight that NCDOT put up around the state to mark the 2017 national championship for the Tar Heels. The state Board of Transportation approved a request for the signs from UNC, which chose the locations and paid $2,000 apiece for them.
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Most of the signs were put up along interstate highways where people enter North Carolina: Four on I-85 and I-95 at the Virginia and South Carolina state lines; one along I-40 at the Tennessee line; and one that eventually ended up on I-77 south of Charlotte.
But two were placed in the Triangle, on eastbound I-40 at North Harrison Avenue in Cary and on westbound I-40 at the I-540 interchange near the Wake-Durham county line, ostensibly to be seen by visitors who have just arrived at Raleigh-Durham International Airport.
The Cary sign rankled fans of the rival N.C. State University Wolfpack, which plays its home games in PNC Arena about three miles away. UNC’s arrangement with NCDOT would allow the signs to remain up for no more than two years, but the Cary sign lasted about a week.
After a week passed with no reports of its whereabouts, NCDOT sent a couple of workers out to look around the North Harrison Avenue exit. They found it Thursday afternoon.
“Presumably it was cut or chopped down and then carried a bit and just tossed,” Abbott said.
He said there aren’t any suspects in the sign’s disappearance and vandalism. One clue: The spray paint was red and white.