The thin blue line that was painted on a New Jersey street last fall in support of local police is actually illegal, according to federal officials, but the town's mayor is vowing to keep the blue line, even if it means defying federal regulation.
The town of Mahwah had the blue line painted in front of the local police station in October at the request of a resident who wanted to show gratitude for keeping the community consistently ranked among the safest in the state.
But in a letter dated Dec. 8, federal highway official Mark Keherli told Mahwah officials that blue paint is only to be used for specific reasons, like handicapped parking spots.
He writes that there are other ways to honor law enforcement officers "that do not involve the modification of a traffic control device, which can put the road user at risk due to misinterpretation of its meaning."
A spokesman for the Federal Highway Administration spokesman added in a statement to NBC 4, “We appreciate and understand the efforts by local governments and others that convey support for law enforcement officers. However, the yellow lines down the center of a road are meant to control traffic and modification of that marking could cause confusion, accidents and fatalities. Our number one priority is the safety of all drivers."
But residents don't see the problem.
"In the middle of the street in front of the police station, I wouldn't think for a second it's a handicapped spot," said Stephen Soria.
"If they're showing support for the police, it should be no big deal," he said.
Mahwah's mayor says he will defy the federal standard, and keep the blue line on Franklin Turnpike outside police headquarters.
"Mayors don't usually do things that are also illegal, but if you want to call this line illegal, that's all right with me," said Mayor William LaForet.
Mahwah has its own line-painting machines and leftover blue paint, so the cost was small, elected officials said. Though the line outside the police station is fading, it will be repainted in the spring.
LaForet said, "We will repaint that, and it will remain until I have to go out there and physically have to remove it myself.'
The thin blue line was a morale booster for Mahwah police, according to Chief James Batelli. He said Monday that bureaucrats in Washington should use common sense and focus on "real" problems.
"If you look at the bridges and infrastructure around the country, I think they should have more important things to worry about," he said.
So far, 15 towns in Bergen County have added blue lines in between the double yellow lines outside their police stations.
In a letter to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx dated Jan. 9, Rep. Josh Gottheimer said he "understands the desire for uniformity in roadway planning," but thinks the case of the blue line should be re-evaluated.
The blue lines, he wrote, don't stretch the full length of the street, and "these simple actions have been an important symbol," he said.
"The federal government should not force communities to choose between supporting law enforcement and federal roadway standards," wrote Gottheimer. "This should be a town by town decision."