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The Empire State doubled down on the tourism campaign local officials find obnoxious and unsafe last summer, even with the Federal Highway Administration threatening $1.7 billion in funding.
The federal government could defund the New York State Department of Transportation if it fails to remove 514 “I Love N.Y.” signs that highway officials deem illegal.
Signs began going up more than five years ago against the U.S. Department of Transportation’s wishes, and the state spent $1.8 million on the tourism campaign last summer.
Federal and state transportation officials plan to meet later this month to discuss the signs’ size, which the Federal Highway Administration says is too large; content, which it says is excessive and a driving distraction; and removal.
“If it becomes clear that it is not going to happen, we will make a determination about the penalty,” said Neil Gaffney, FHA spokesman, told The Suffolk Times. “It could be a range of things, from withholding federal approval for projects to withholding highway funding.”
New York state receives $1.7 billion in federal highway funding annually.
“I Love N.Y.” signs sport combinations of state initiatives, the campaign’s web URL, a mobile app promotion, and the slogan: "Experience. Explore. Enjoy."
“This issue has been discussed for years and involves issues like the interpretation of rules,” Gary Holmes, NYSDOT spokesman, said in an email to The New York Times. “This isn’t high crime, but minor disagreements that we look forward to meeting with the feds in order to resolve. The ‘I Love N.Y.’ tourism program is highly successful and a big economic driver.”
They’ve been successful enough that Gov. Andrew Cuomo touted them in his 2014 State of the State address.
That same year, the FHA proposed working together to come up with “innovative” New York road signs,The Journal News reported, but the state declined.
Even local governments have joined the chorus of those dissatisfied with the look of the state's “I Love N.Y.” signs.
On Long Island, Southold Supervisor Scott Russell felt the signs were too big and didn’t fit the town’s state-approved waterfront plan, reported The Suffolk Times, and officials in Montauk and East Hampton Town convinced New York officials to replace the signs on roads leading to the local lighthouse.
“We’ve spent literally a billion dollars protecting small villages and scenic vistas and all of that, and putting up eight giant billboards wasn’t really promoting those very scenic features,” Assemblyman Fred Thiele told The Times. “Quite frankly, we kind of felt that not only were they inappropriate, but it was really kind of a boondoggle.”
Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.