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NJ wants American flags memorializing 9/11 gone from highway overpasses

The American flag (Petr Kratochvil/Public Domain)

Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, American flag displays have adorned New Jersey highway overpasses as a spontaneous outpouring of patriotism and support.

Some were hung and forgotten, others were meticulously maintained much like the display of American and military flags on poles at the New Jersey Turnpike Authority overpass south of exit 11 in Woodbridge.

But now, the New Jersey Turnpike Authority wants the flags gone.

“While we appreciate the desire of some New Jersey residents to express their patriotism in these turbulent times by displaying flags on Turnpike and Parkway overpasses, Authority regulations do not allow it, and for good reason,” said Tom Feeney, a Turnpike Authority spokesman. “The NJTA cannot adequately monitor flags mounted by private citizens to make sure they are safely and securely hung, properly displayed, and respectfully maintained.”

Authority officials are treating the flags as they would any unauthorized advertisement or banner hung from an overpass, he said. Officials cited a statue that bans “any displays, posters, or placards, or display any advertising matter of any kind, regardless of the character or content of the message, on the roadway.”

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Two Central Jersey lawmakers said they plan to change that statute to keep the unofficial flags flying. Senator Declan O’Scanlon and Assemblywoman Serena DiMaso, both R-Monmouth, plan to introduce a bill to exempt display of American flags from the statute and asked Gov. Phil Murphy to intervene.

“We are deeply saddened to learn that the Turnpike Authority would choose to remove dozens of American flags under the guise of a regulation for advertising material, it is unpatriotic and completely unacceptable,” O’Scanlon said. “We clearly have a massive group of private citizens, veterans and police officers dedicated to ensuring that those flags are safely and securely hung, and respectfully maintained. This is an instance where government oversight obviously is not needed. We have requested legislation to undo this arbitrary, unnecessary, offensively unpatriotic action immediately.”

In Robbinsville, the police department union plans to hold an event Friday to replace the American flags on the Turnpike overpass in that Mercer County town as well as an I-195 overpass.

The Turnpike and Parkway run through more than 100 municipalities and include more than 1,100 bridges and other structures, Feeney said. Feeney also cited “the long-standing policy of the New Jersey Turnpike Authority has been to prohibit the display of any flags, signs, or banners by private parties on Authority property.”

Officials also cited proper respect for the flag as another reason for removing the overpass displays. Flags at authority garages, office and other buildings, which are on suitable flagpoles, are lit at night, lowered to half-staff when the nation or state is in a period of mourning and replaced when they are faded or damaged, he said.

“Those flags are treated with the utmost respect by Turnpike Authority personnel,” Feeney said. “The Turnpike Authority appreciates and applauds patriotism. We try to express patriotism ourselves every day by maintaining dozens of American flags at (our) properties.”

O’Scanlon refuted the notion that road crews can’t monitor the condition of flags on overpasses on the Turnpike and the Garden State Parkway, which the authority operates, O’Scanlon said.

“We hope that the Governor will override the NJTA’s faulty logic and decision here,” O’Scanlon said. “If not, we call on our colleagues in the legislature to stand behind our bill and prove that we as New Jerseyans love and respect our country.”

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© 2020 NJ Advance Media Group