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Home / Construction / Who cooks up those witty freeway messages? This guy

Who cooks up those witty freeway messages? This guy

Traffice travels Interstate 39/90 in dane County last summer under a sign whose message was dawn up by Jon Riemann, communications manager at the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. The messages are planned two months in advance and are the fruit of collaboration between him, law enforcement, traffic-safety engineers, civil engineers and an office assistant. (Photo courtesy of WisDOT)

Traffice travels Interstate 39/90 in dane County last summer under a sign whose message was dawn up by Jon Riemann, communications manager at the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. The messages are planned two months in advance and are the fruit of collaboration between him, law enforcement, traffic-safety engineers, civil engineers and an office assistant. (Photo courtesy of WisDOT)

By ANNMARIE HILTON
Sheboygan Press

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. (AP) — You have probably seen the message boards along Wisconsin freeways providing information on travel times, Amber and Silver Alerts and witty remarks about driving safely.

But did you know the state has Sheboygan to thank for the man behind writing and planning those messages?

Jon Riemann grew up on 26th Street between Kohler Memorial Drive and Superior Avenue. Now, he’s communications manager at the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

This March will mark one year on the job for Riemann, the Sheboygan Press reported.

Among other responsibilities, Riemann leads the charge on writing those freeway messages. He said the messages are planned two months in advance and are the fruit of collaboration between him, law enforcement, traffic-safety engineers, civil engineers and the office assistant.

The messages are designed to influence driver behavior, Riemann said. With 550 traffic-related deaths, department officials can’t help taking driver safety very serious. That doesn’t mean, though, that they don’t also try to have fun. Their messages can be no longer than three lines of 18 characters each.

Here are some of Riemann’s favorite and best-received messages.

HOCUS POCUS, DRIVE WITH FOCUS

TEXTING AND DRIVING: AUTOCORRECT YOURSELF

ARRR YE BUCKLED UP MATEYS?

THAT’S THE TEMPERATURE NOT THE SPEED LIMIT

LIFE IS FRA-GEE-LAY, SLOW DOWN

MAKE IT TO DEER CAMP, DRIVE SOBER

Sometimes, Riemann said, the messages don’t read fast enough or don’t look quite right when he’s driving by them in the morning, so he and his fellow employees will go back and edit them.

Aside from working within the constraints of character-count limits, Riemann said his main goal is to make sure the messages are short and easily understood by people of all ages. To that end, he and his colleagues will try to play on current events or holidays in a way that makes people think but doesn’t cause a distraction.

Jon Riemann

Jon Riemann

Riemann made special note of the department’s message from last Halloween, the one reading “HOCUS POCUS, DRIVE WITH FOCUS.” Not only, he said, did it have a catchy rhyme scheme; it also served as a perfect reminder on that unseasonably snowy night.

When asked about the Ryder Cup, Riemann said there are rules governing what he and his fellow employees can say about specific events. That’s not to say, though, that they don’t already have some ideas in mind. In other words, be on the lookout for a good golf joke come September.

Riemann’s current specialty comes in part from his love for the news business, which he took a fancy to at an early age When Riemann was 8 years old, his older brother had a paper route. He said it was the best route because it was on their own street.

Riemann’s brother was six years older than Riemann and was involved in extracurricular activities in high school. That meant the route essentially belonged to Riemann if he wanted it.

“I was making some coin and walking the block,” he said.

After graduating from high school in 1999, Riemann went through Milwaukee Area Technical College’s television program and then got a bachelor’s degree from Concordia University.
During his last semester there, Riemann won a scholarship from the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association.

Although his career ultimately took him out of Sheboygan, Riemann still has family there and says he could see himself moving back later in life.

“It’s a great place on a Great Lake,” he said.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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