Heading into Raleigh on eastbound Interstate 40 might be one of the last places you’d expect to see a highway sign celebrating the UNC-Chapel Hill men’s basketball team’s national championship last year.
Yet there it is, a standard issue green sign with white letters, just beyond the overpass for North Harrison Avenue, three miles from PNC Arena. And there’s another one on westbound I-40 at the Wake-Durham county line.
The N.C. Department of Transportation put up the signs at the direction of the state Board of Transportation. At a special teleconference meeting in late November, the board approved a UNC request to erect the signs in eight places: Four on I-85 and I-95 at the Virginia and South Carolina state lines; one along I-40 at the Tennessee line; one on southbound I-85 near I-77 in Charlotte; and the two along I-40, more than 14 miles away from Chapel Hill.
The I-40 signs are ostensibly located where they will catch the eyes of visitors who have just deplaned at Raleigh-Durham International Airport, NCDOT wrote Monday afternoon on Twitter, where NCSU Wolfpack fans wondered what the state was thinking.
NCDOT spokesman Steve Abbott said the signs are the first erected under a new policy approved by the transportation board last fall that allows any school that wins a national title in a sport “recognized by the NCAA” to put up as many as eight signs touting their victory. The school pays for the signs, at $2,000 a piece, and they have to come down within two years.
Abbott said the program was modeled after one started in South Carolina last year that was used to put up 13 signs honoring the national football championship of Clemson University. The signs were installed at South Carolina welcome centers and along three highways heading into Clemson.
The Tar Heel signs have already proved contentious elsewhere. The sign along I-85 in Charlotte ended up too close to the campus of UNC Charlotte for some tastes. After some blowback from fans of the UNC Charlotte 49ers, NCDOT agreed to move the sign to Interstate 77 near the South Carolina line.