Lawmaker proposes legalizing roadside memorials

Posted: Friday, February 28, 2003

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- A bill to let Alaskans continue to erect roadside memorials for those killed on particular stretches of the state's highways was introduced in the House.

Rep. Jim Whitaker, R-Fairbanks, said he wanted to put to an end the controversy over roadside memorials. He is sponsoring House Bill 127.

The state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities had a plan to replace the white crosses or homemade memorials with standardized signs.

Transportation officials see roadside memorials posted on the state's right of way as safety hazards required to be removed.

The department began last summer offering alternative signs free of charge for people interested. One sign says ''Don't Drink and Drive'' or ''Drive Safely'' and another smaller sign includes the victims name.

''We looked at (the DOT idea) and saw that it was potentially overbearing; we saw no reason for it,'' Whitaker said.

The plaques received a lot of publicity after transportation officials began an advertising campaign informing residents that homemade signs would be removed.

Rick Kauzlarich, state right of way chief, said the reports were overblown and, despite state law forbidding signs posted in the right of way, no memorials have been removed.

''What we've been trying to do is talk to the people and offer them an alternative to putting up the homemade memorials,'' Kauzlarich said.

Whitaker's bill would change state statute to allow memorials that do not contain reflective material or otherwise distract drivers. They also cannot interfere with highway construction, maintenance or safety and can't contain commercial or political messages.

Highway workers could not move or remove the roadside memorials without first contacting the owners, under a provision of the bill. The House Transportation Committee is scheduled to hear the bill on Thursday.

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