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NY, Feds reach accord over 'I Love NY' signs as deadline loomed

One of the controversial signs, on the Meadowbrook

One of the controversial signs, on the Meadowbrook Parkway, in 2016. Credit: Howard Schnapp

New York State’s more than 500 “I Love NY” tourism signs can stay — for now — under an accord reached with the federal government, which had demanded their removal by Sept. 30, state officials said Friday.

The agreement means the state will not lose $14 million in highway funding, the Federal Highway Administration said in a statement.

In the coming months, New York will submit its plan for a new tourism campaign that will include apps.

“We have reached an agreement to launch an innovative experimental project to allow tourism signage to highlight cultural, historic, and other significant state attractions off the highway system,” state Department of Transportation Commissioner Paul Karas and Thruway Authority Director Matthew Driscoll said in a joint statement.

Confirming the state and federal government were “on a path forward to resolve this matter, the Federal Highway Administration’s statement added: “Based on NYSDOT’s written commitment to achieve compliance, FHWA is terminating the initial penalty and restoring the FY 2018 funds.”

The Cuomo administration put the signs up in 2013 to increase tourism, saying they offered useful information and did not cause accidents.

The federal government, however, said they violated laws limiting road signs to navigational assistance and barring them from being used as ads.

The battle over the large blue-and-white highway signs, which typically appear on major state roadways in groups of five — a so-called motherboard, followed by four successive markers — erupted after the Federal Highway Administration rejected the state’s request to install them.

But Cuomo's administration moved forward with the program nonetheless as part of the 2016 summer tourism campaign, installing 514 signs statewide at a cost of $8.1 million.

On Long Island, 144 "I Love NY" signs were erected on the Meadowbrook, Wantagh and Northern State parkways, the Long Island Expressway, at Jones Beach and at Long Island MacArthur Airport.

Some of the signs, posted on local streets in Montauk, Port Jefferson and Orient, were later removed after complaints from residents and local officials that they were ugly and ruined the aesthetics of the landscape.

In February, Brandye Hendrickson, acting administrator of the Federal Highway Administration, told state officials that they would withhold an estimated $14 million from the roughly $1 billion the agency gives the state annually for highway and bridge improvements.

Details about the coming campaign were sparse.

“As the 'I Love New York,' 'Taste of New York,' 'Pathways Through History' signage campaigns have run for approximately five years, the state will be designing a new advertisement campaign that will be profiled in various media outlets, as well as easy-to-download apps that will coordinate with road signage,” the two state officials said in their statement, adding the program will include regional motherboards.  

Tourism is a $100 billion industry, supporting about a million jobs, they said. “We will coordinate with our Federal counterparts once we have more details on this new effort and we will announce the campaign as soon as it is completed.”


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