The I Love NY Interstate Highway signs are back in the news and for all the wrong reasons. I first reported on the construction of these illegal signs back on December 5, 2016 in the post
The subject were the signs erected by the Department of Transportation in defiance of the Federal Highway Administration. The 514 out-of-state manufactured signs were hurriedly installed requiring overtime just prior to the July 4 weekend in 2014. The Governor found the funds he needed because that’s what the Governor can do when he wants something done.
The situation did not go over well with the FHA leading to on-and-off meetings between the state and federal organizations. The threat to the state was the loss of funding from the federal government if it refused to comply with federal rules. It would seem as if the state didn’t really take seriously the threat of any loss of funds over these 514 signs.
I next reported on the situation on February 5, 2017. The Albany Bureau of Gannett led by reporter Jon Campbell had obtained additional information regarding the costs using FOIL requests. The funding had been done through “emergency contracts” because as everyone knows what better qualifies as an emergency than I LoveNY signs. In the post I wrote:
Mike Elmendorf, president and CEO of the state Associated General Contractors, [said] this usage was “’not typical.’” Elmendorf’s words bear notice. He is a critic of the signs and said the money could have been better spent.
“I think the bigger concern is using capital dollars for something that certainly has no benefit to infrastructure and, I think you could argue, has negligible benefit for tourism, because they don’t really tell you anything.”
Exactly right. Cuomo has paid millions to market the Path through History concept but no money to create actual paths through history. For a person who wants to be president of the United States in a time of great national division, it is astonishing that he would engage in alternative facts and be so dismissive of the local and state history that helped make America great in the first place.
So I wrote one year ago.
What has happened since then?
The following articles by Campbell appeared in my local paper as well as a variety of papers throughout the state that are part of the Gannett chain. I used the titles from my paper which may vary from the title used in other papers. The dates are from the website and not the publication dates which often were the following day.
The total cost was $8.1 million including about $3.6 million for materials and $4.5 million for installation. This figures compares to the $1.76 million originally reported for the 514 signs.
March 20, 2017: Feds, State Battling over Replacing I Love NY Signs (print title)
Feds say no, but NY replacing wind-swept I Love NY signs (website title)
The article refers to Mother Nature (temporarily) removing some signs through a wind storm that Cuomo refused to remove. The article concludes with a quotation from Assemblyman Stephen Hawley (R), Batavia: “Only in New York can you use taxpayer money in plain sight to fund illegal activities and no one bats an eye.” Naturally he was taken to task for his comment by those who champion the prowess of the federal government.
The Governor’s words were more suggestive of a change because after they had been up for over three years, they had served their purpose so perhaps something new was in order. There was no suggestion that they would be removed because they were illegal. He may have been laying the groundwork for the face-saving words he would use once he was compelled to remove them.
I had been clipping these articles from the local paper the old-fashioned way with a scissors waiting for the right time to write another blog about them. I didn’t know when that might happen but sooner or later something had to give. This month the signs hit the fan.
Paul Karas, head of the state DOT, said on Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018, that his agency was not submitting a plan to the feds in the coming weeks to resolve ongoing issues over I Love NY highway signs. The agency did four days later. This item is a video of Karas being interviewed and not an article. As it turns out the coming weeks ended up being the coming days.
Cuomo’s prediction comes true. He was right when he said the federal government would not take down the signs. Instead it ordered the state to do so by September 30 and withheld $14 million to force compliance. So add the cost of removing them to the $8.1 million cost of installing them.
This action attracted attention.
Newsday published an editorial Finally, New York’s useless highway signs will hit the road writing
the federal government is forcing Cuomo to take down the 514 nearly useless eyesores, which cost about $15,700 apiece.
The Post tactfully proclaimed: Cuomo Finally Signals ‘surrender’ in Highway-sign Fight
The gov’s minions don’t have much choice but to do as he orders. But it seems Cuomo found that “my way or the highway” doesn’t work with the Highway Administration.
The Poughkeepsie Journal delicately phrased Cuomo’s surrender this way:
STATE BLINKS: I Love NY Signs to Come Down by Summer to Avoid $14M fine
WARNINGS IGNORED: New NY highway signs are illegal, feds say
The counterpunch anticipated by Cuomo last year was that the signs had worked but had now outlived their usefulness and would be replaced by new signs and slogans which the FHA may or may not approve.
2018 is of course an election year and the governor position is on the ballot. Senator John DeFrancisco (R), Syracuse, as expected, criticized Cuomo for his actions and defiance (video).
He has called for hearings on the subject.
Naturally Cuomo is fighting back. DOT spokesman Joe Morrissey said: “Since it began, tourism has increased 18 percent and the economic impact of tourism jumped more than 20 percent. DOT makes road signs and the Senator should know that since this program was included in the budgets he voted for. We know he’s running for Governor, but this sort of nonsensical grandstanding should be left at the door.”
That claim led to the following counter-response by DeFrancisco:
The Governor and his DOT Commissioner are delusional. They must think that New Yorkers are morons to think that they would believe that illegal signs costing $8 million increased tourism by 20%. He just can’t admit that he’s wrong. Clearly, Andrew hasn’t learned any lessons from the Percoco trial.”
Let the games begin. Imagine if they catch on that the Path through History touted on those signs has been a joke and subject of ridicule for even longer than the signs!
Interestingly the Republican charge that the Democrat chief executive from Queens acted above the law in the state capital was eerily similar to the Democratic charge that the Republican chief executive from Queens in the national capital operates the same way.
P.S. For the history signs that actually are needed see my post from November 8, 2016: History Signs: Pathway to the Past.
How about taking all the millions the governor can find when he wants and spend some of it on the history signs themselves. Let’s take an inventory of the signs we do have, the corrections and repairs which are needed, and determine the signs we should have that we don’t.
P.P.S. It is time to look at the awards granted by I Love NY for the 2017 REDC funding for the Path through History touted on the signs.