The controversial “I Love NY” highway signs were to be removed by Sept. 30 to avoid losing $14 million in funding. More than 500 signs are still up.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo may have hundreds of pretty blue highway signs posted next to New York state highways, but that doesn’t mean he knows what direction he should be going in.
Seven months ago, his administration announced that the controversial blue “I Love NY” promotional signs erected along the state’s interstate highways would be taken down by Sept. 30 to avoid losing $14 million in valuable highway funding. Well, Sept. 30 is upon us and the more than 500 signs are still up.
The federal government has long made it clear — and the state has been well aware — that the signs were illegal because they violate state law and federal highway safety regulations. The state decided instead to put them up anyway. According to documents obtained under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, the state even brushed off a formal proposal from the federal government to work together to create promotional signs that were both informative and compliant with the law.
Incredibly, after a years-long feud, millions of taxpayer dollars wasted and Washington holding our highway infrastructure spending for ransom, the Cuomo administration is still hell-bent on preserving at least some of these signs.
According to emails and draft records acquired by USA Today Network’s Albany Bureau earlier this month, Cuomo’s office is still trying to negotiate terms with the federal government, proposing to take down the roughly 400 “follow-up” signs, while keeping up 122 “motherboard” signs.
The signs are in a common pattern on the side of the road. A large “motherboard” sign has four logos of the state’s tourism programs under the heading “The New York State Experience.” This is then quickly followed by four smaller signs.
A major factor in this feud is over the word “Experience.” The state wants to keep it in italics, which federal regulations say can lessen a driver’s ability to read the sign at 65 mph. According to the news bureau, the state has agreed to take the “I Love NY” website address and app name off the signs but is insistent that the “motherboard” signs stay up completely.
Here’s a better idea: Just take down the damn signs. Comply with federal rules and put this ridiculous time-consuming disagreement — one that never needed to happen in the first place — to bed.
In the Jan. 4, 2017, column “Feds to Thruway: Signs Off!,” I initially defended the purpose of the signs, knowing that tourism is a $100 billion industry in New York state, and crucial to the upstate economy. But the road we have taken to get to where we are now is definitely not worth any benefit the signs may or may not have produced.
In a feud that dates back to 2013, the state spent $8.1 million in taxpayer money — that’s $15,000 per sign — to build and install signs they knew were illegal. Now we’ll have to spend an untold amount of money to take them down. whenever the state feels compelled to do so.
Let’s also not forget that the state was in such a hurry to get these illegal signs up by the busy Independence Day weekend in 2016 that it ironically employed a company in Arkansas to assist in manufacturing them. Nothing says “I Love NY” more than signs that promote New York’s homemade products being made in a state on the other side of the Mississippi River.
There is also no way to measure the signs’ specific impact on tourism so we actually have no idea how effective these “I Love NY” signs that weren’t made in New York really are. And if the state gets its way and is able to keep 122 of them up, we will still never know. Unsurprisingly, the state claims the initiative has been “overwhelmingly successful.”
And after all of that, we’re now down to whether or not the words should be in italics — with $14 million at stake.
If the Cuomo administration is lost in what to do in this highway signs saga, there is already a group of signs up that aren’t illegal and provide information on a simple traffic maneuver that is actually also good advice for what the state should do. They say “EXIT.”
Luke Parsnow is a digital producer at CNY Central (WSTM NBC 3/ WTVH CBS 5/ WSTM CW6) and an award-winning columnist at The Syracuse New Times in Syracuse, New York. You can follow his blog “Things That Matter” online and follow his updates on Twitter.