The Montana Department of Transportation is currently removing private memorial markers from state highways. According to Gary Harper, superintendant of maintenance for MDT District 4, this comes following a meeting where it was determined that some of the memorials had become a distraction to motorists.
“We had a meeting not too long ago where it was discussed and we came to the conclusion that they had to come down,” Harper said.
It is a federal regulation that no such signs be placed in the right-of-way along public roads. However, there is an exception to that rule, as the American Legion of Montana has an ongoing agreement with the MDT to place memorial white crosses for over 60 years as part of a safety program. The American Legion’s markers have to meet a list of requirements as part of the agreement.
Highway crosses that are part of the American Legion program will remain in place, but all others will be removed.
According to information provided by Lori Ryan, MDT’s communications director, the White Cross Safety Program between MDT and the American Legion began in 1953. The program was acknowledged in writing in 2001, solidifying the partnership between MDT and the Legion. The idea of marking fatal traffic accident sites with a white cross was conceived by Floyd Eaheart, a member of the American Legion Hellgate Post #27 in Missoula, after six lives were lost in that area over the 1952 Labor Day Holiday.
The markings are meant to serve as a reminder to be careful on the roads, however many families who have lost loved ones in accidents have also been placing their own markers. While MDT is sympathetic to these families, they cannot allow unauthorized markers along the public roads.
Harper said that the department will make attempts to contact family members of those who have lost their lives along Montana’s roadways before removing the signs, but he noted that it can be difficult because many of the markers don’t have names on them. Any removed markers and related items are taken to the local MDT maintenance yard where the families can pick them up. Even if the family is not contacted before the memorial’s removal, the items will be taken to the maintenance yard for someone to pick up at a later date.
“We’re more than happy to return them,” Harper said.
According to the information Ryan provided, families who want a highway marker placed should contact the nearest participating American Legion post.
Harper noted that because the removals are being handled by multiple crews, he does not currently know how many have been removed or how many more are going to be.
Reach Hunter Herbaugh at firstname.lastname@example.org.