Feds tell New Jersey towns to stop painting center lines blue

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Toni Yates has the details.

Municipalities across New Jersey that have chosen to honor law enforcement by adding a streak of blue to the middle of their roads have been advised by federal officials to stop the practice, prompting outrage.

A letter from the Federal Highway Administration to every municipality in New Jersey confirmed that the blue center lines are in violation of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways (MUTCD), which stirred a bit of controversy in towns that had chosen to honor its officers.

"These rules and regulations were in place before officers gave the dynamics they have now," Mahwah Mayor William Laforet said. "What these officers do for us every day to keep us safe, we can do this to support them."

The MUTCD states that "the pavement surface must be visible in the space between the lines in the same way that it is visible outside the lines."

"Across the country, law officers are being killed, one today (in Orlando)," Mahwah Police Chief James Batelli said. "It sends a message that there is support from the community."

Town leaders are pressing for support the the simple symbolic gesture, now that the paint has captured the attention of transportation officials who say rules and regulations prohibit any paint between the double yellow traffic lines.

"It's good that the residents of communities around Bergen County and around the state are supporting law enforcement," Batelli said when the lines were painted last year. "And I think taking time to understand how difficult their job is."

The trend caught on in Rochelle Park, Maywood, Glen Rock and other Bergen County towns that got City Council approval to paint the lines.

Office of Transportation Operations Director Mark Kehrli added in the letter that blue paint should only be used for designating handicap parking spaces, and that the blue line could lead to confusion. Still, communities are standing by their decision, and Mahwah is even going in the opposite direction. Not only does Laforet say the line will stay, he's on a mission to keep the trend spreading across the country until every police department has one.

"Mahwah is considered one of the safest communities in the state of New Jersey," he said last year. "And it's for the work of this police department that we're here where we are."

Susan Larsen led the charge for the blue line in front of Mahwah's police station, and she insisted they were not in response to any national issue and were meant simply as a thank you.

"I think that a very simple effort of recognizing the good," she said in October. "I feel like it can start with the first step. People need to hear each other's side, certainly."

It's unclear whether municipalities can be penalized for keeping the blue lines.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)
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