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Feds, NYS still at odds over road signs, LIE rest stop sales

The controversial blue New York State tourism signs

The controversial blue New York State tourism signs on the Meadowbrook Parkway on Nov. 5, 2016 in Freeport. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

A meeting Tuesday between the administrator of a federal agency and the state’s DOT commissioner over controversial road signs and cash sales related to the state’s “I Love New York” tourism campaign ended with plans for further discussions.

Federal Highway Administration spokesman Neil Gaffney said Wednesday that the agency still wants New York State to comply with federal regulation and remove the signs, which have been criticized by residents and local officials. The agency also wants state officials to cease over-the-counter sales at the new Welcome Center on the eastbound side of the Long Island Expressway, between Exits 51 and 52 in Dix Hills.

“Not sure of a timetable,” Gaffney said, referring to a resolution of both issues. “We want the state to be in compliance.”

Federal officials have threatened to withhold some of the approximately $1 billion the state receives each year for highway and bridge projects if the signs are not removed. They have not announced a penalty if the over-the-counter sales continue.

Gaffney and DOT spokesman Gary Holmes issued this joint statement on the meeting between Gregory Nadeau, of the Federal Highway Administration, and Matt Driscoll, of the New York State Department of Transportation:

“FHWA [Federal Highway Administration] and NYSDOT [New York State Department of Transportation] had a constructive conversation. We discussed the tourism signs and over-the-counter cash sales taking place at the Interstate System rest area on Long Island. We agreed to form a working group on the sign issue to identify a strategy that explores opportunities to achieve New York’s objectives of continuing to promote tourism in a manner consistent with federal legal requirements. We will continue these conversations with the aim to resolve any outstanding compliance issues.”

Gaffney said federal law requires that highway signs provide only directional and other navigational information for drivers, and added that a DOT request for permission to erect the signs had been denied.

The Federal Highway Administration said a decades-old law restricts over-the-counter sales at the Taste NY store and that such sales violate federal law that allows only vending machine sales at interstate rest and recreation areas.

Holmes said the sale of locally produced foods and beverages at the Welcome Center promote the state, and that because they are part of a tourism effort rather than a “commercial facility,” over-the-counter sales are allowed.

But Gaffney said Wednesday that the “prohibition” for such sales has been in effect since 1956.

“There are no other facilities allowed to have over-the-counter sales on the interstates in New York,” except “grandfathered in” restaurants and travel stores on the New York State Thruway, Gaffney said.


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