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NJ still doesn’t have permit process for hanging American flags over Turnpike, Parkway

American and military branch flag fly in an unofficial display on a New Jersey Turnpike over pass in Woodbridge. (Larry Higgs/TNS)

Veterans’ groups and patriotic individuals looking for rules and permit applications to properly display American flags on overpasses spanning the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway haven’t been able to find them.

That’s because there are none.

And a new flag controversy has erupted about whether the New Jersey Turnpike Authority should allow U.S. military flags to be displayed from Turnpike and Garden State Parkway overpasses.

The lack of a policy or guidance about flag display on the Turnpike Authority’s website has created frustration for veterans’ groups and individuals who want to properly display an American flag. On Sept. 29 Turnpike Authority officials said one would be drafted after an interim policy permitting the display of American flags was approved.

“We would have hoped to have more clarity on the proper procedure required by the Turnpike Authority, but also understand it is a political process,” said Daniel Dunn, American Legion New Jersey State Commander.

A search of the authority’s website revealed a policy and permitting procedure for holiday decorations on the Turnpike and Parkway, but not for flag displays.

The interim policy bans all banners, signs and flags, except for the American flag from being displayed from overpasses spanning the toll roads. That was approved last September after a firestorm of criticism erupted when the authority began enforcing a policy that banned all flags, banners and signs from overpasses.

The ill-timed enforcement started before the annual observance last year of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Gov. Phil Murphy quickly overruled the Turnpike Authority on Sept. 8, 2020 and the Authority approved an interim policy exempting display of the American Flag from the ban.

Although there isn’t a permitting process, the authority hasn’t stopped groups and individuals from safely displaying American flags since then, said Tom Feeney, a Turnpike Authority spokesman.

“The Authority has allowed people to display American flags on overpasses since last fall. None have been removed. Many people have taken advantage of the change in policy allowing American flags – you can ride up and down the roadway and see American flags on many overpasses,” he said.

The formal process promised as part of last September’s action permitting American flags is coming.

“There will be a formal online permitting process, as planned. There is not (one) yet, but it’s coming soon,” Feeney said. “In the absence of one, people have been free to display American flags.”

Questions about hanging an American flag on a particular Turnpike or Parkway structure can be asked of the Authority’s Community and Government Relations Office at 732-750-5300, extension 8282, he said.

Legislation was quickly introduced last year to permit proper display of American flags over toll roads and state highways in the state assembly and senate, but neither bill has progressed since then.

What about flags representing the U.S. Armed Forces?

While those have been flown from toll road and state highway overpasses, officials asked those flags to be removed from a Parkway overpass in Sayreville. Supporters held a rally to support displaying those flags on June 13, News12 reported.

Military flags have been seen displayed with American flags on some toll road and state highway overpasses for years.

“There is a regulation prohibiting people from hanging anything (except American flags) on Turnpike or Parkway property,” Feeney said, adding that signs informing people about the ban have been posted on “most major overpasses.”

But official U.S. armed forces flags should also be exempted from the ban to pay tribute to the military’s service, veterans groups said

“We would hope to be able to support all of our brave men and women that serve in our military by being able to display the banners of each branch of service,” Dunn said. “One of the four pillars of the American Legion is a strong Americanism. We lose sight of the sacrifices made by our military. We all need to remember that they give us that right to fly those flags.”

Assemblyman Dan Benson, D-Middlesex, one of the bills sponsors, said he’s willing to talk to veterans and others who want the exemption expanded.

“To date, I have not been contacted by a veterans’ group, however I am certainly open to receiving their input and suggestions regarding the broadening of flag flying to commemorate specific occasions, so long as it is manageable from an administrative standpoint,” Benson said in a statement.

But Turnpike Authority officials said safety issues have to take precedence and that displaying the American flag represents everyone.

“The American flag is a symbol of our shared values. Displaying it respectfully honors all of the women and men who have fought to protect those values,” Feeney said.

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