The Massachusetts Highway Department has ordered workers to remove American flags and other patriotic tributes on highway overpasses. State officials said they are concerned the flags and signs could fall on drivers, causing an accident.
The state said it did not have a planned time line to enforce the ban, but in upcoming weeks, it will remove flags and anything else hanging over bridges and overpasses.
The ban comes a year after the state's last attempt to regulate the overhead displays. At the time, under pressure from military families and their advocates, highway officials said signs were acceptable if positioned behind fences, but now they are saying even these must come down.
"It has nothing to do with safety,” said James Wareing, the leader of a military support group who assembled and maintains a display dedicated to Alex Jiminez, a U.S. Army specialist kidnapped in Iraq. “Nothing has ever happened in six years."
He invited Alex’s father, Andy Jimenez, to help him take down the display Dec. 4, before highway workers are sent to dismantle it.
The display "is good for me, because I don't feel alone," said Jimenez, whose son's unit was ambushed south of Baghdad in May. "Now I have to pull it down. I don't know why."
Mass Highway Commissioner Luisa Paiewonsky said the edict applies to all signs on bridges over highways. It neither singles out patriotic displays, nor makes an exception for them, she said.
The state doesn't want anything—flags, sheets, signs—hanging over a major roadway for safety reasons. Erik Abell, Massachusetts Highway spokesman, said the state is concerned about the safety of drivers.
"Homemade signs and other items posted on overpasses pose a potential safety hazard to vehicles on roadways," he said. "It's an issue we need to be aware of. MassHighway's highest priority is keeping the roadway safe for all users."
Abell said other options are being considered, but couldn't elaborate. A spokeswoman for Gov. Deval Patrick said the issue is a transportation issue and declined to comment.