Getting "fan" mail is one of the things I most enjoy about writing this column. Pleasant as that is, however, it is not without its pitfalls, if I’m not careful. A good example of that fact is the reaction to a previous column that included a photograph with an incorrect caption. The picture (repeated below) included the caption: "To my knowledge, this was the last traffic light on Interstate Route 90. This photo was taken in 1990 in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho." However, the photo was not taken in Coeur d’Alene as the original caption stated, but in Wallace, Idaho—as I quickly learned from the 17 engineers who separately e-mailed me and corrected my error. For a column such as this one, 17 reader responses constitutes a landslide negative vote—engineers don’t pick on writers except when the writers are really wrong.
My lame excuse for the mistake is that to get a shot of the last traffic light on I-90, I called telephone information, obtained the name of a local photographer in Idaho, and paid him to take the picture. However, I probably incorrectly identified its location.
The last traffic light on Interstate 90 in Wallace, Idaho
Some of the responses to my mistake were quite amusing. Who said engineers don’t have a sense of humor—and a long memory? A sampling of my critics’ comments follows:
Reed B. Osborn, transportation engineer at Washington State Department of Transportation Eastern Region —Traffic, said, in part: "I believe the last stoplight on I-90 from Seattle to Boston was when the viaduct portion … was completed in Wallace, Idaho, not Coeur d’Alene." He added, "Wallace was also one of the last towns to outlaw brothels." Hmm, that little tidbit alone is more interesting than anything else about the last traffic light on I-90.
Don Davis, staff engineer of Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) District 1 from Coeur d’Alene—a good source for this information—wrote, "You may already have heard from a few of us Idaho folks and maybe even a few from the ITD. … The last traffic signal on I-90 was in Wallace." He added, "The last signal was … just a few miles short of Lookout Pass into Montana. It was a great celebration when that old light finally came out and got properly interred. … There are still a few ITD employees who remember it fondly. ITD gave out belt buckles commemorating the event. … They are quite the collector’s item."
Ryan Carnie, P.E., of Lochsa Engineering of Idaho, said, "I recall this tidbit of trivia coming up on Jeopardy a couple of decades ago. … The last time I saw the light, it was in a glass case. Apparently Wallace is proud of its place in history."
Knute Rife, from a law office, stated with attorney-like certainty that "it was the last traffic light on not only I-90, but on the whole Interstate system."
Not everybody got it right. One correspondent wrote, "It looks more like the business loop bypass through (perhaps) Kellogg, Idaho." But he added, "Don’t quote me on this." So he will remain anonymous.
Tony Righellis from Las Vegas said, "The photo that you show for I-90, is, I believe Business 90." Is there a difference between the two in the Idaho panhandle?
And finally, Wilson Blake wrote, "The picture is looking west through Wallace. It was the last stoplight as the overpass to bypass the town [Wallace] was held up for years by a lawsuit from a disgruntled, but wealthy, city resident."
If I am ever in northern Idaho, I fully intend to visit Wallace to confirm to my own satisfaction by how many miles I missed the true location of that fickle traffic light.
Alfred R. Pagan, P.E., P.L.S., is a consulting engineer in Hackensack, N.J. He can be reached at 201-441-9719; or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.