Valdosta city officials held a ceremony to dedicate Valdosta’s first welcome sign on North Valdosta Road Friday.

“I’ve been looking forward to this day for a long time,” said Valdosta City Mayor John Gayle.

Attendees Parked on the road’s soft shoulder, their cars in an area sectioned off with bright orange traffic cones.

Southbound traffic was pushed to one side and backed up for a few hundred yards. Cars moved slower than the speed limit and rubber-neckers strained to get a glimpse of the event.

State representatives Ellis Black and Dexter Sharer attended the ceremony.

“I used to drive into Valdosta,” Gayle said, “and wonder why we don’t have a welcome sign.”

Gayle then thanked the city council for getting behind the project, which is the first of more projects. City officials anticipate beautifying the 10 other city entrances, Gayle said.

Valdosta City Council has worked toward erecting the sign since 2013, said Valdosta City Manager Larry Hanson.

The sign results from Georgia Department of Transportation’s Gateway grant, which allots money to Georgia cities which are wanting to beautify their city.

The late representative Jay Shaw was instrumental in getting the project funded, Hanson said.

“In a way,” Hanson said, “this is a tribute, this morning, to our friend Jay Shaw.”

Valdosta City Arbor crew designed the landscape around the sign and the Valdosta City Engineering crew erected the sign.

The engineering crew building the sign cost $7,000, which is far cheaper  than the $20,000 anticipated market cost.

After words, Gayle took a giant pair of wooded scissors and cut the red ribbon, officially opening the sign and ending the ceremony.