The controversial “I Love NY” tourism campaign signs that federal officials want removed cost the state $6.3 million more than originally estimated, a state official said Wednesday.
At a joint legislative budget hearing in Albany, State Department of Transportation Commissioner Matthew Driscoll acknowledged the signs cost $8.1 million. The DOT previously said the signs cost $1.76 million.
Driscoll said the DOT paid $5.4 million for 374 signs and the state Thruway Authority paid $2.7 million for an additional 140 signs along the thruway. The state based previous estimates on November figures. Final costs calculations accounted for the increase, he said.
“That $1.7 million was a point in time,” Driscoll said when asked by reporters after the hearing about the cost discrepancy.
“Now that we have all the costs in, we know that it’s $5.4” [million]. That’s our all-in cost.”
The $8.1 million pays for design, fabrication and installation of the signs, DOT spokeswoman Tiffany Portzer said Thursday.
Federal Highway Administration officials said the blue and white markers promoting New York attractions are illegal and unsafe.
The signs typically appear along major state roadways in rapid succession — the first referred to as a “motherboard” — followed by four additional markers.
Their placement violates state and federal laws that say such sings along roadways are meant to help motorists navigate their trips not advertise, according to the Federal Highway Administration, which denied a 2013 DOT request to put them up. The signs also contain too much information, the FHA said, therefore are a distraction to drivers.
In Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s 2014 address he announced the “I Love NY” campaign. The 144 signs placed on Long Island started springing up in June on the Long Island Expressway, the Meadowbrook and Northern State parkways, Jones Beach, and Long Island MacArthur Airport.
Some signs placed on local streets in Montauk, Port Jefferson and Orient were later removed by the DOT after opposition from residents and elected officials who said they were “useless,” “too big,” and “ugly.”
Federal Highway Administration representatives have said the agency wants the rest of the signs taken down and have been in talks with the DOT since late last year to bring the DOT into “compliance.”
Asked about the “status” of the sign program during his session with reporters, Driscoll said, “Our signs are installed. We continue to speak with federal highways. We’re having good conversations. As you know we’ve entered into a work group with federal highway staff along with DOT staff and we’re working through signs with them.”
Doug Hecox, a spokesman for the FHA, confirmed that talks between the two sides are ongoing. Federal officials have threatened to decrease the approximately $1 billion the state receives for highway and bridge projects each year if the signs are not removed.
Driscoll defended the signs, telling reporters, “New York State has a $100 billion tourism industry, and we wanted those signs in so we could help support that. I think if you look across the board, you look across the country — New York State’s not alone. States are using their transportation systems to enhance their local economies.”
Once the signs were installed, Driscoll said, “There was an uptick of 100,000 hits on the website — that’s great news.” He was referring to visits to download the I Love NY app.
Asked if the state will add more signs, Driscoll said, “We’re not putting more in. We installed our signs — we are where we are — we continue to have very positive engagement with federal highways and we look forward to continuing that conversation. ”