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Highway cross marker 'vandalism' explained

| March 8, 2007 11:00 PM

To the Editor:

I am the state chairman for the American Legion's highway fatality white marker safety program. They are commonly called white crosses.

Many of us in the American Legion have worked hard over the past 55 years to keep this viable safety program alive. Most Montana peace officers strongly support this safety program, and all Montana highway patrolmen laud our efforts to reduce highway fatalities.

Every Montana governor over the past 55 years has endorsed this program. However, some of the staff in the Montana Department of Transportation have expressed some concerns that the white markers may become memorials, and the decorating of them will cause both unnecessary littering and distractions to motorists.

The American Legion has a written agreement with MDOT to help prevent littering and decorating of our white marker safety program. As such, we are asked to remove any decorations whenever the white markers are maintained or excessively decorated.

In the Libby area, our maintenance is done annually on the Sunday before Memorial Day. We are very sympathetic and understand about these decorations, especially the first year after the fatality. Some decorating is even allowed after the one-year period, as long as it is done in good taste and does not obscure the white marker itself.

Recently there have been some letters to the editor stating their white markers are being vandalized by having the decorations removed.

The white markers are erected by the local American Legion and as such are owned by them. Therefore, the only vandalizing that is occurring is when someone decorates one of these white markers.

It is only the written agreement that we have that allows us to place them in the highway right of way at the scene of the highway fatality.

In the case in point, the white marker was decorated so excessively that one could not identify it as a white marker. It had become a distraction to motorists.

Therefore, in accordance with the written agreement, I had to remove the decorations at least three times. If the decorating continues, our next course of action will be to remove the white marker.

The American Legion does not want to jeopardize losing this program statewide. We feel that it is a good safety program. If it causes just one motorist to slow down and thus avoid losing just one life on our highways, our program has been a success.

We are sure that this has happened many times. Therefore, this safety program has saved many lives.

In many cases the numerous crosses have been instrumental in MDOT recognizing a dangerous area and correcting or changing the highway accordingly.

MDOT currently supports the program so strongly that it has been included on the front of the new official Montana highway map. You can check it out or read more about our safety program at www.mtlegion.org.

I hope this letter to the editor will clear up any confusion on this safety program and educate our local community on our highway fatality marker program.

We appreciate those family members that comply with our guidelines and support our safety program.

Larry Stroklund