The Nebraska DOT is hoping to balance helping families grieve and removing distractions from state highways with a new roadside memorial sign policy. The DOT says it instituted the policy to increase safety along state highways.
“We get a lot of calls from the public and they want some of these removed as well because they find them distracting or sometimes they block a driver’s view,” NDOT Deputy Director of Operations Moe Jamshidi said.
The signs can have one of multiple messages such as “please drive safely” or “don’t drink and drive.” It would also display the person’s name that the sign is dedicated to. NDOT says the signs cost $50 and an application must be filled out by an immediate family member and approved before the sign goes up.
Stanton resident Nan Hetzler has a roadside memorial for her son Hunter, who was killed in a crash in May 2018. She does not like the idea of only having a sign to mark where her son took his final breaths.
“To be the closest we can be to him now because he’s gone, that’s our spot,” Hetzler said. “We go to where he took his last breath. It’s not in the cemetery. He was gone long before he was in the cemetery.”
The new policy only impacts personal memorials that are in the right-of-way of state highways. Hetlzer’s son’s memorial would not be affected as its about one mile west of Highway 15 south of Pilger. She is still passionate about the issue though and says the memorials are not distractions.
“[The memorials are] calling attention to slow down, watch the road, somebody’s life was taken at this spot.”
The DOT says they recognize this is a very sensitive process. They are trying to track down owners of memorials so they can reach out and talk to them about the new policy.
“We know the importance of it, and we’re not going to be out there and just taking them out before we do our due diligence,” Shamidi said.
When a memorial sign is placed, it will stay there for two years. After that, the family will have an opportunity to take the sign home after it is removed from its spot by the DOT. Hetzler disagrees with this as well, saying you can’t put a time on grief.
“My son was killed 18 months ago, so a year-and-a-half,” Hetzler said. “I will be going out there 10 years from today. He died there. God took him there.”
The new policy was announced Wednesday. A link to the memorial sign application can be found here: https://appengine.egov.com/apps/ne/roadside_memorial_sign