Barhite: Roadside memorials break the law, but help mend heartsWritten by Brandi Barhite | Community Ombudsman | firstname.lastname@example.org
Wooden crosses in the grassy median mark the scene of a wrong-way car accident that killed three Bowling Green State University sorority sisters March 2.
This Interstate 75 memorial is one of the most recent to surface, but it is certainly not the only one in the area.
One well-kept memorial is for a Toledo mother and her unborn son who died as result of injuries from a 2009 accident on the Anthony Wayne Trail.
It is easy to understand why family and friends want the memorial. It is a way to remember a loved one, it is a way to mourn the loss and it is a way to make sure no one ever forgets that the accident occurred there.
But while it is a common practice, it is also a balancing act: protecting drivers from the possible distraction of a memorial, while also honoring the family’s desire for the memorial. It is almost impossible to pick a side.
Theresa Pollick, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Transportation District 3, said the placement of signs in state highway rights of way is prohibited by state law, although she understands the emotions involved with such a policy.
The right of way is controlled for the safety of drivers, she wrote in an email. Highway workers performing maintenance or construction have the right to remove memorials at any time.
“We understand the desire for people to memorialize the place where a loved one was killed, but the last thing we want is for an accident to occur when someone stops or they cause a distraction,” she said.
When and if ODOT is contacted about memorials, it offers the option of participating in the adopt- a-highway program.
By participating, ODOT will place bidirectional highway sign in recognition at the section that is adopted.
Volunteer groups adopt a 2-mile section or an interchange along a state route, U.S. route or interstate, Pollick said. Groups adopt for two years, and ODOT provides training, trash bags and disposable vests.
City of Toledo spokeswoman Jen Sorgenfrei said city crews occasionally remove memorials that are considered to be an encroachment on public property or obstructing the public right of way.
However, city crews try to give mourners a chance to take it down first so they can keep sentimental items or move the memorial to private property.
“This can often be accomplished by driving by the site and talking to some of the people who are there adding to the memorial or paying tribute. If a memorial is on private property we do not remove it,” she wrote in an email.
Sounds like both the city and the state understand that roadside memorials should involve plenty of compromise so no one has to pick a side.