NORTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – Last fall, towns across New Jersey painted blue lines on sections of roadways in support local law enforcement. Last month, however, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration (FHA) ruled that the honorary blue lines – such as the one painted on Somerset Street in the space between the double-yellow lines – are non-conforming and pose a safety concern. 

According to a December 2016 letter from the FHA to the Somerset County Engineering Division, the blue markings do not conform with the agency’s Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways (MUTCD) because the shade of blue paint used is reserved to paint the lines on handicapped parking spots and the paint in roadways could cause confusion.

“Section 3A.06 of the MUTCD states that the pattern of a longitudinal double line shall be two parallel lines separated by a discernible space. For this space between the two lines to be discernible it must represent a lack of other markings,” states Mark R. Kehrli, director of the FHA’s Office of Transportation Operations in the letter.

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The letter goes on to explain that, under Section 3A.05 of the MUTCD, the use of blue pavement markings is limited to supplementing white markings for handicap parking spaces.

“The use of blue lines as part of centerline markings does not comply with the provisions of the MUTCD…” Kehrli states in part. “Blue as it applies to a pavement marking is exclusively reserved for the background color in the international symbol of accessibility parking symbol…and for the supplemental pavement marking lines that define legal parking spaces reserved for use only by persons with disabilities…”

North Plainfield Police Chief William Parenti, head of the Somerset County Police Association of Chiefs of Police, said he understood the FHA’s reasoning, but, at the same time, doesn't view the blue lines as a hazard.

“I don't think they pose a risk or that anyone will park on them thinking they are handicap spots. I think it is discernible. If you look at the blue line and the double yellow lines, you can tell,” said Parenti. “It was done for all the right reasons and as a nice gesture and although we probably wont see many more be painted there is no rush to go out there and remove them.”

While the FHA’s ruling recommends counties throughout New Jersey to remove the blue lines, local political leaders on both sides of aisle are taking a stand in support of the municipalities and their right to honor police. On Jan. 10, both Republicans and Democrats leaders in the New Jersey State Senate and Assembly introduced joint resolutions in support of the blue lines.

“It appears that the FHWA determination is nothing more federal overreach into a matter of exceptionally important local public concern,” states the joint resolution (SJR97/AJR136), which was introduced by Christopher ‘Kip’ Bateman (R-16th) and Tom Kean, Jr. (R-21st) in the Senate and Erik Peterson (R-23rd) in the Assembly.

“A municipality ought to have the ability to show appreciation and support for its law enforcement officers, including the ceremonial paining of a ‘thin blue line’ on roadways under its jurisdiction, without involvement or interference from the federal government, and this state will not sit idly by while the federal government threatens to encroach on that ability…” continues the resolution.

“It seems that, yet again, the federal government is out of touch with everyday Americans. A simple show of support for the men and women of law enforcement has needlessly been brought into question,” said Peterson. “I’m very confident that drivers are not going to mistake the blue lines down the middle of the road for handicapped parking zones. We need to let the towns decide what is best here.”

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