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Distracting Drivers? MDOT sees memorials in right-of-way as hazard

DAILY LEADER STAFF / A simple white cross at Highway 583 and Topisaw Drive is one of several roadside memorials placed along area highways in memory of lives lost in traffic accidents. All of the memorials along Highway 583, though they are close to the highway, are just outside of the right-of-way, according to project foreman Larry Williams with the Mississippi Department of Transportation. Williams explained that the right-of-way varies along the highway.

DAILY LEADER STAFF / A simple white cross at Highway 583 and Topisaw Drive is one of several roadside memorials placed along area highways in memory of lives lost in traffic accidents. All of the memorials along Highway 583, though they are close to the highway, are just outside of the right-of-way, according to project foreman Larry Williams with the Mississippi Department of Transportation. Williams explained that the right-of-way varies along the highway.

Phone calls, emails and texting are all accessible in the palm of the hand and have become an addition to the list of things that distract today’s drivers.

The Mississippi Department of Transportation is trying to combat distractions for drivers on state highways and said that roadside memorials also can distract drivers’ attention. Executive director of MDOT Melinda McGrath in a news release added that there is also a great danger to those who place or maintain the memorials.

“These memorials not only endanger the distracted driver,” the release reads, “they also endanger the person placing the memorial along the highway. Any area remotely close to a highway can be an extremely dangerous location.”

Besides the danger of being run over on the side of Mississippi Highways, Rule 941-7501-09001, in “Rules, Regulations and Ordinances Governing the Use of State Highways of Mississippi,” adopted by the Transportation Commission says it is unlawful to use or obstruct the right of way of state highways. These right-of-ways are only to be used in the case of an emergency.

MDOT is asking that people stop placing and maintaining memorials, and the department has begun a systematic removal of any memorials found in the right-of-way on state highways.

MDOT public relations officer Michael Flood said the agency is “using the utmost respect in removing memorials. They are using extreme care.” First a picture is taken of the site, then, locations are documented using landmarks, measurements or GPS (global positioning system). The department creates a report for each memorial removed.

Flood said the memorials are then taken to the local maintenance office to be stored. Family members will have 90 days to pick up their memorials after removal.

Lincoln County MDOT project foreman Larry Williams said that so far in Lincoln County no memorials have breeched the right-of-way rule.

“We haven’t had to remove any memorials so far,” Williams said. “And there are none here in our facility to be picked up.”

Flood said there is an alternative to placing memorials along the highways for family and friends of an accident victim – an individual or group may participate in the Mississippi Adopt-a-highway Program. It doesn’t cost participants anything but a commitment to maintain a section of highway for at least two years.

“An adopt-a-highway sign will placed on the highway with their loved one’s name on it,” Flood said. “This is a great way for families to memorialize their loved ones and it serves the community at the same time.”

Anyone who has questions about right-of-ways or the issue of roadside memorials should contact the MDOT’s public relations office in Jackson at (601) 359-7074.

To learn more about safety issues and how to get an official memorial for a loved one, call the public relations office or visit MDOT’s website at www.mdot.ms.gov.

To inquire about or make an appointment to pick up a memorial in Lincoln County, people should contact the local project/maintenance office at (601) 833-8300.