Private memorials to be removed from Wyoming Highways
Had been allowed to remain for five years
by Wyoming Department of Transportation
September 28, 2008
WYDOT’s (Wyoming Department of Transportation) roadside memorial program has completed its fifth year with 220 memorial signs now installed, and beginning Oct. 3 all private memorials along the state’s highways when the policy took effect in 2003 will be removed and held for pickup by the victims’ families.
Private memorials erected after the policy took effect have been removed as they appeared, but the 295 private memorials already in place in 2003 have been allowed to remain for five years. That grace period has now ended, and WYDOT has attempted to notify the families of the pending removal and who to contact to claim the materials. However, it has not been possible to identify or locate who put up the memorials in every case.
The families are being offered the option of having a WYDOT memorial sign erected in place of the private memorial. However, if the private memorial is located in an urban area or on U.S. Forest Service land, no sign can be installed under the memorial policy.
"This is an emotional issue and no policy is going to please everyone," WYDOT Director John Cox said. "We sympathize with family members’ desire to remember their loved ones, but we must meet our responsibility to maintain a safe highway system. We believe having WYDOT personnel put up memorial signs is preferable to having family members put themselves in danger, or putting other drivers in potential danger by allowing obstructions to remain in the highway clear zone."
The roadside memorial policy was implemented after more than a year of discussion and actively seeking public comment on the issue. It was designed to be a compromise between the conflicting interests of meeting the emotional needs of those who have lost family members in crashes and maintaining a safe highway system.
Wyoming law prohibits any encroachment on highway right of way, and the memorial policy created a safer alternative to private memorials being erected beside roads. The memorial signs the department offers to put up for anyone killed in a crash on the state’s highways are located safely at the edge of the right of way, meet federal highway safety standards and are installed free of charge.
Having WYDOT personnel install and maintain the signs eliminates the dangers of family members erecting or visiting memorials beside a road and the risks of having unregulated obstructions in the highway clear zone. Any new private memorials placed at a site or any private materials added to a WYDOT memorial sign will be removed.
The risks of parking beside a highway are considerable. The year before the roadside memorial policy was implemented, eight people were killed and 152 injured in crashes involving parked vehicles in Wyoming. In the five years since the policy took effect, an average of three people have been killed and 163 injured in crashes involving parked vehicles.
Since the policy was implemented, favorable comments and requests for memorial signs have outnumbered complaints. Cox believes the public’s acceptance of the program suggests the policy is generally viewed as a reasonable compromise.
Under the policy, WYDOT agreed to leave the memorial signs up for five years. There are 35 memorial signs that have been up for five years and are now due for removal.
WYDOT has notified the families they can claim the sign by contacting the department, or choose one of two new alternatives being offered: WYDOT will leave the sign up without maintenance, or offer a one-time option to have a new sign installed for a fee of $50.
The original five-year limit was set because the sign materials deteriorate and have a limited life span. WYDOT doesn't have the resources to replace them with new signs indefinitely, and the $50 fee will cover the cost making and installing a new sign.
Original signs left up beyond five years eventually will be removed by WYDOT when deterioration makes them no longer readable, or they can no longer withstand Wyoming’s weather. The department cautions families who choose to have a sign left up past five years not to put themselves at risk by attempting to maintain or remove the signs themselves.
If at anytime the families decide they want to claim the original sign before it deteriorates further, they can contact the department to have it removed. At that time they will be given the one-time option of having a new sign installed for the $50 fee.
WYDOT thanks everyone participating in the memorial sign program.