Mother Nature recently sided with the Federal Government, ripping down some of the “I Love NY” signs that have been the center of a bitter battle between New York State and the Federal Highway Administration.
But the state is doubling-down, using your tax dollars to put them back up despite a federal penalty of $14 million if all the signs throughout the state aren’t removed by the end of September.
You can’t approach an exit on the Thruway or any major highway in New York without noticing the signs which push you to the “I Love NY” app for more information about local tourist attractions.
Governor Andrew Cuomo says the signs practically put Upstate New York on the map, “here in this region, tourism is up about 15% it's now a $64 billion industry. We had a hidden little secret called Upstate New York that nobody told anyone about, nobody told anybody about the Finger Lakes,” he told Messenger Post's news partner's News10NBC Investigative Reporter, Jennifer Lewke, in October.
But drive through the Finger Lakes on the Thruway Monday and you’ll notice many of the signs are gone.
When News10NBC called the Thruway Authority this week, a spokesman said, “the signs sustained some minor weather-related damage which will be repaired and the signs will be re-erected in the coming weeks.”
New York State has spent $8.2 million creating and installing these signs over the past five years.
From the moment the first batch went up, the Federal Highway Administration said they were too cluttered, distracting and violated federal law. FHWA demanded the signs come down, when the Cuomo Administration didn’t comply, FHWA said it would dock NYS $14 million in federal highway funding until it did and gave New York a September 30 deadline.
Earlier this year, the state agreed to remove the signs and “re-purpose” them into federally-approved tourism signs but now it appears the two sides can’t agree on a new design.
Some of our local lawmakers are furious that the state would spend time and money to put the signs back up considering they need to be removed in just a few months.
“Enough is enough,” says Assemblyman Steve Hawley. “He (Governor Cuomo) was told not to put them up, he put them up. He spent taxpayer money. He was told to take them down, he didn't take them down. They fell down, blew down, he spent money putting them back up and now he's doing it again, only two months before his deadline. The beat goes on and on and on. He thinks taxpayer money is his own and he'll spend it just the way he wants,” he adds.
In regards to whether all the signs will be down before the deadline, a spokesman for the NYS Department of Transportation says,
“New York welcomes and appreciates the continuing dialogue with the FHWA to advance opportunities to promote regionally significant historical and cultural attractions off the interstate highway system. We believe these signs provide valuable way-finding information to motorists and tourists. Out of respect for the on-going process, we are not in a position to comment on the content or timeline of those discussions but we fully expect to have a mutually beneficial agreement in place well before the September deadline.”
A spokesman for FHWA tells News10NBC, “We look forward to working with NYSDOT to ensure New York’s signage complies with safety standards required to qualify for federal funding. For specific information on their timetable, please contact NYSDOT.”
Hawley says if keeping the sign up results in a loss of federal funding, it's the taxpayers who will suffer, "think about where that $14 million fine by the federal government can go. Whether its libraries, whether its education, whether its highways and infrastructure in all of our districts across the state of New York, that money could be put to much better use," he told News10NBC.