They'll walk a mile, not a kilometer

February 06, 1994|By Kansas City Star

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Nancy L. Kassebaum vows to be dragged into the 21st century inch by inch, not centimeter by centimeter.

She and two Republican colleagues from Kansas last week introduced bills to block a plan to replace all highway signs in the United States with signs listing distances and speed limits in metric units by October 1996.

"We didn't grow up with the metric system," she said.

"We're so used to seeing highway signs in our own miles, and the confusion that would come is just not worth the conversion."

The Federal Highway Administration is considering withholding federal highway money from states that refuse to convert signs to kilometers. The initiative by Ms. Kassebaum, Sen. Bob Dole and Rep. Pat Roberts would prohibit the federal government from forcing states to comply.

Highway officials have said metric signs would cost millions. Cities and counties also would have to convert, at higher expense.

Ms. Kassebaum says she fully supports converting to metric measurements for commerce and trade to compete globally. But of metric highway signs, she says, "I don't see the point."

She was converted after a relentless crusade led by Adolph Wildgrube, a 72-year-old retired quality control employee in Independence, Kan.

He gathered 802 opposition signatures on a petition he delivered to the entire Kansas delegation.

"You just contemplate going down the freeway and it's a quarter of a mile to the next turnoff and 212 miles to the next one," Mr. Wildgrube huffed. "Well, in metric what would that be?"

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