Editorial: Let people decorate their highways

The MetroWest Daily News

You don't have to be a government employee to harbor a bureaucratic mindset. Plenty of private sector workers have to put up with office managers who don't really care what you do at your desk as long as you clutter it up with family photos, reading matter and important papers.

But the bureaucratic mindset seems to flourish in government offices, where job security and power over people's daily lives combine to foster arrogance. Follow the rules and don't ask questions, says the bureaucrat. It's my way or the highway.

Actually, in the latest example, the thinking runs "the highway is my way" - and you can keep your flags, posters and "welcome home" greetings off it.

That's the best way to explain the decision of the state Highway Department to prohibit the hanging of flags, signs and banners welcoming home troops from highway overpasses. Especially since 9/11 and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, patriotic citizens and the families and friends of troops serving overseas have used the overpasses to send messages to their loved ones and everyone else about sacrifices that are too easy for most people to forget.

The signs and flags are no more of a distraction than roadside billboards and signs put up by MassHighway advertising attractions at the next exit. While it is theoretically possible a loose flag could drop on a car windshield and somehow cause an accident, we've yet to hear a single example of that happening.

The lack of proof that these displays are truly dangerous didn't stop MassHighway from decreeing they be taken down, much to the chagrin of veterans groups, relatives of service members and all who appreciate these timely reminders. Gov. Deval Patrick heard the uproar all the way from China, where he is heading up a trade mission, and wisely reversed the policy pending further study.

We hope that study will entrust the highway banners to the opposite of the bureaucratic mindset: Common sense.

Common sense says when a sign or banner is on the outside of the chain-link fence and in danger of falling onto the roadway below, take it down. When the welcome home sign is faded and torn, or when the flag is old and frayed, take them down; they've done their jobs. If someone wants to come back and replace them, fine.

Common sense says the highways are owned by the people and maintained through the taxes they contribute. If the people want to use these structures to send inoffensive messages to their loved ones and their fellow citizens, there's no need for bureaucrats to stand in their way.