Signs to Honor Merle Haggard on Interstate 5 in Redding
● Published by Patrick John
By Patrick John
The signs are up! It took more than one year, including a California resolution, a fundraiser, pages of paperwork, and a Caltrans crew to make it happen. A true community effort has paid off with a permanent pair of memorial signs honoring country music legend and local resident Merle Haggard.
Eagle-eyed locals noticed them right away. If you travel Interstate 5 through Redding, pay special attention to the bridge over State Route 44. Northbound or southbound, you’ll see the white memorial bridge sign labeling the “Merle Haggard Memorial Overpass.” On average, more than 60,000 travelers pass by on a daily basis.
It all started with North State Senator Ted Gaines. One month after Haggard’s passing in April 2016, Gaines introduced legislation to honor Haggard, a long-time Northern California resident, with the permanent freeway signage. Four months later, with unanimous ayes and final recording, the signs were a done deal… sort of.
As with any project, someone’s got to foot the bill. In these cases, the state of California will not authorize public taxpayer dollars to pay for memorial freeway signage. That’s when Senator Gaines’ office contacted our radio station and asked if we could come up with a creative idea and spearhead the fundraising efforts.
We decided we didn’t just want to ask people for money; we wanted them to get something in return and take ownership of the project. Thus, the Billy & Patrick Merle Haggard Memorial t-shirts were born. Q97 listeners helped spread the word and bought the t-shirts, as did Haggard’s friends and fans at his favorite local hangout, Lulu’s in downtown Redding. Inquiries and orders for the shirts came from all over the United States and Canada. Raising the $2,500 for the signs went quickly, the money was sent off to the state and the signs went into production. Caltrans installed them the first week of September.
The signs are just a small part in honoring Haggard. He gave the world an overwhelming amount of meaningful music, great stories from near and far, and was very generous to local projects and causes. Offstage and to most locals, he was a dad and husband, and the guy you might run into and chat with at the grocery or hardware store. So, next time you head through Redding on I-5, pop on a little Okie from Muskogee or The Fightin’ Side of Me, roll down the windows, and give the Hag a nod as you fly by.