Over the years, untold thousands of people stopped in Wallace because of that stoplight. Once, the coast-to-coast road was dotted with traffic lights, but they disappeared one by one as the highway became an interstate. At some point, the Wallace stoplight became the only one on I-90 between Seattle and Boston. It probably caused more than one tourist to look around at the quaint little town and decide to stop and grab a burger or take a mine tour. A new viaduct would make stopping unnecessary so some in Wallace were a little concerned about the impact on the tourist trade.
As many as 10,000 vehicles a day were funneled through Wallace as they followed the longest Interstate Highway—3,024 miles—across the United States. The new viaduct would take traffic into the air above the town. Rather than crawling through the heart of Wallace, travelers would now just fly by.
Even with the potential loss of tourism, Wallace residents were generally happy with the nearly mile-long viaduct that took traffic by the town. The original plans were to destroy much of downtown Wallace to make room for the divided highway. A couple of buildings were torn down, and the iconic railroad depot was moved to make way for the freeway, but the bulk of the town was saved.
The reaction to the new bypass by the tourism community in Wallace was to get quirky. The burial of the stoplight, which included a horse-drawn hearse and marching bagpipe players, was part of that. It went back up a few days later to control local traffic but was eventually taken down and displayed in the mining museum in a coffin complete with artificial flowers. The quirkiness continues with the popular Oasis Bordello Museum and the manhole cover in the middle of town, declaring the spot to be the center of the universe.
Tourism remains a big deal in Wallace. You can ride a zip line, bike the Hiawatha Trail through the tunnels, take a silver mine tour, and hike the Pulaski Trail to learn about the Big Burn of 1910.
Coeur d’Alene challenged Wallace’s “only stoplight” claim for a couple of years. During the construction of I-90 past Coeur d’Alene, drivers were shunted down Sherman Avenue for a time when they would encounter another stoplight. Today, no light impedes the flow of traffic on I-90 in Idaho or anywhere else.