A towering neon saguaro glows at night at the Oracle Road-Main Avenue-Drachman Street interchange.

The sign, which took a year and a half to design and build, was lighted for the first time Monday night. It draws from the power source for nearby streetlights.

The city Transportation Department paid for the $67,000 sculpture, which local artist Dirk Arnold designed and Cook & Co. SignMakers constructed. Funding came from the budget of the 2007 project to redo the intersection and remove the roundabout.

Arnold's design beat out those of about 40 other applicants. He hooked up with Cook & Co. because the organization helped him move the legendary Ye Olde Lantern restaurant sign into his yard in 2007. The sign had to be taken down because it jutted into the Oracle Road right of way, and Arnold acquired the sign so he could restore it one day. It rests in the back yard of his Dunbar Spring Neighborhood home.

"I wanted to put something else large and iconic there," said Arnold, 44, who also works as a technical writer.

"I contracted with (Cook) to fabricate my vision," Arnold said. "I gave them my drawings, and they turned it into a technically feasible, buildable thing."

Arnold said he selected the saguaro because of its symbolic connection to the area. He designed the lettering to read "MIRACLE MILE" on the side facing south and "TUCSON" on the side facing north.

"I designed it as a two-way gateway," he said, adding that he was driven by nostalgia for the giant neon signs that used to line Miracle Mile but are now close to extinct.

OTHER PUBLIC ART

• Diamondback Bridge: East Broadway west of North Euclid Avenue. Simon Donovan, 2002.

• Epes Randolph: Intersection of East Camino Campestre and South Randolph Way. Nicholas L. Burke, 2006.

• Sonora: Joel D. Valdez Main Library, 101 N. Stone Ave. David Black, 1991.

• Gila monsters: Irvington Road bridge at Santa Cruz River West Branch. Bob Vint, 1993.

Contact reporter Phil Villarreal at 573-4130 or pvillarreal@azstarnet.com