DOT cracking down on roadside memorials

Posted: Monday, August 13, 2001

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- The state Department of Transportation is cracking down on roadside memorials put up by the friends and families of those killed on Alaska's highways.

DOT says the memorials can be a distraction to drivers, and has come up with an alternative program. The agency is offering white and blue signs that will cost families $500 to order and maintain for two years. After that, DOT will take the sign down.

State law prohibits any kind of advertising signs, displays or devices in the rights-of-way of primary and secondary roads.

''Over the past couple of years we occasionally have had a complaint,'' said John Bennett, DOT's Northern Region right-of-way chief. ''For some reason they don't think it's right. They've either got a problem with a religious item or with it being on a public highway.''

Bennett said that in the last two years DOT has been putting property management policies into regulations and during that the memorials came up as an issue. He said the state risks losing federal money if it ignores encroachments, whether abandoned cars, construction, campaign signs or memorials.

There have been no reported accidents caused by roadside memorials, Bennett said.

The standard DOT sign will read ''Please Don't Drink and Drive'' on a 30-by-36-inch rectangle with a smaller plaque below that will read ''In Memory of,'' followed by the victim's name. For families of proven drunken drivers who died in accidents, the plaque will read ''Sponsored by,'' followed by the drunken driver's name.

Signs memorializing victims killed in accidents that didn't involve alcohol will read ''Please Drive Safely'' with a plaque below.

The program is modeled after programs in Oregon and Washington, said Rick Kauzlarich, right-of-way chief for the state of Alaska. Since the pilot program emerged in Alaska two years ago, only about five families have bought the standardized signs, he said.

DOT will be taking public comment on the pilot program for the next few months before deciding whether to make it permanent.

Bennett is uncertain how the crackdown will be enforced. Local law enforcement agencies balk at the idea of taking down memorials.

''Because of the sensitivity of the memorial, it's easy to make enforcement of those a little bit lower on our priority list,'' he said.

Meanwhile, Fairbanks Republican Sen. Gary Wilken, a member of the Senate Transportation Committee, said the committee is involved in developing a project similar to the standardized signs. But instead of charging $500 for the sign, he suggested a yearly fee of somewhere around $50 to maintain the sign and allowing it to remain longer than two years.

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